The role of deprivation, abuse, and trauma in pediatric catatonia without a clear medical cause

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2012 Jan;125(1):25-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2011.01779.x. Epub 2011 Oct 24.


Objective: Catatonia is considered a unique syndrome of motor signs, at times life-threatening when aggravated by autonomic dysfunction and fever, but eminently treatable with specific medical treatments, if recognized early. Catatonia commonly occurs in children and adolescents with a wide range of associated disorders. The role of deprivation, abuse, or trauma in the development of pediatric catatonia is examined.

Method: Reports considering deprivation, abuse, or trauma as precipitants of catatonia in pediatric cases are culled from the classic writings on catatonia and from a selective review of modern contributions.

Results: Kahlbaum gave trauma a central role in catatonia in many young adult cases. Kanner described children with psychogenic catalepsy. Anaclitic depression, a condition found by Spitz in deprived institutionalized children, strongly resembles stuporous catatonia. Leonhard considered lack of communication with the mother or substitute mother as an important risk factor for childhood catatonia. Children including those with autism who experience emotional and physical trauma sometimes develop catatonia. The clinical descriptions of children with classic catatonic syndromes and those of contemporary refugee children with a syndrome labeled Pervasive Refusal Syndrome are similar.

Conclusion: The literature supports the view that deprivation, abuse, and trauma can precipitate catatonia in children and adolescents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Catatonia* / diagnosis
  • Catatonia* / drug therapy
  • Catatonia* / etiology
  • Catatonia* / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Institutionalized / psychology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Early Medical Intervention
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Precipitating Factors
  • Psychopathology
  • Psychosocial Deprivation
  • Risk Factors