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Between Worlds

Jani Schofield is seven years old and has been diagnosed with child-onset schizophrenia

Posted: January 16, 2010 8:17 p.m.
Updated: January 17, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Jani's father Mike Schofield shares a moment with his daughter.

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Some of Jani Schofield's friends don't like her little brother, Bodhi.

Sometimes they tell her to hurt Bodhi. And sometimes - even when she doesn't want to - she listens.

If she doesn't, Four Hundred the cat might scratch her, or Wednesday the rat might bite her.

One day, without warning, 7-year-old Jani started to gnaw on the toddler as if to eat him. Tears streaming from her eyes, she repeated, "I'm going to eat you, Bodhi. Bye, bye, Bodhi. I love you."

Her father intervened to remove Bodhi from the UCLA Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital room, where Jani often has to stay. It was the kind of scare that forced the parents, Michael and Susan Schofield, to live in separate Valencia apartments to keep Bodhi safe.

Michael Schofield doesn't see a battle between his son and daughter.

"For me, that really illustrated the conflict between Jani and her schizophrenia," he said.

Jani is among the youngest - and rarest - schizophrenia patients in the nation. She suffers from child-onset schizophrenia, which affects just one in 40,000 children.

In comparison, schizophrenia affects about one in 100 adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Schizophrenics often see, hear, smell or feel things or people that aren't there. Their thoughts are typically disordered, delusional and paranoid.

Jani's friends - animals, numbers and people - aren't typical imaginary playmates. They're hallucinations that currently have Jani on powerful antipsychotic medications including Clozaril, lithium and Thorazine.

While the pills help keep Jani stable, they do not slow her down.

And they don't make her friends go away.

Jani's friends
On Tuesday, the neuropsychiatric hospital released Jani to her parents after about a week-long stay. Her parents had readmitted Jani when they discovered she was spitting out her pills.

"She wanted to be like a typical girl and not to have to take medication," said Susan Schofield, Jani's mother.

As her parents prepared dinner on their daughter's first night back, Jani helped. Then she got distracted and wandered off.

"Mommy, look - Eighty and Eight are here. Eighty is holding Baby Eight," she said, making a cradle in her arms.

Jani went on to take Saturday the rat for a ride in a toy wagon. Bodhi played on his own nearby.

Michael and Susan have learned it is best to acknowledge Jani's hallucinations and treat them as much like reality as possible. That way, they hope, she can control them instead of letting them control her.

"They're not hurting you are they, Jani?" Susan asked.

Jani said no.

Susan turned to ask Michael if their daughter had taken her lithium pill yet.

"Lithium helps with the numbers," Susan said.

Jani talks about "Calalini," a place she says is between this world and her world.

"If you walk that way a few miles," she said, pointing into the air, "you'll get there."

Losing touch
There were plenty of signs of her affliction throughout Jani's early childhood.

For one, Jani - short for January - hardly slept as an infant. Her parents would exhaust themselves taking her from one stimulating activity to the next.

Over time, Jani's few imaginary friends evolved into hundreds.

By the beginning of winter 2007, Jani's behavior could no longer be explained by her age, by eccentricity or by her 146 IQ.

"The behavior we could justify in our minds before became horrendous violence," Michael said. "She would swing from being very sweet to wanting to scratch her eyes out and back to sweet, and there was no warning for it."

Jani would tell doctors that her imaginary friends were real.

The Schofields went through more than a year of failed attempts with doctors, therapists and hospitals.

In January 2009, after Jani tried to throw herself through several school windows, a psychiatric emergency team took her to UCLA's child psychiatric unit.

A month later, UCLA doctors diagnosed Jani with childhood-onset schizophrenia, Michael said.

Symptoms of schizophrenia don't usually develop until, at the earliest, age 18 in men and 25 in women.

Divorcing the children
Although Jani's fits of rage and psychotic episodes have died down, her parents still fear they can never leave Jani and Bodhi alone together.

"She can be loving to him, too," Susan said. "It's unpredictable."

Michael and Susan split their family into two Valencia apartments. They alternate apartments every night so that no child goes more than one night without each parent. They couldn't fathom sending Jani away.

"It's kind of like the kids are divorced and the two of us shuttle back and forth between the two kids," Michael said as he looked out his window, across the street to Jani's apartment. "In a sense, we split the family up in order to keep the family together."

Her parents know Jani loves Bodhi, now age 2, but they don't want him to grow up fearing his sister.

"It's a balance between wanting to minimize trauma and protect him but also to not make Jani feel like she's being ostracized or punished," Michael said.

Some of Michael's happiest moments are when he sees Jani and Bodhi playing together, he said.

‘This is a lifetime'
Jani has her way of showing love to her parents and brother.

She once asked her father for a quarter at the grocery store. She came back and handed him a toy monkey and said, "This is because you're such a good daddy."

"She is a gift," Michael said. "So is Bodhi."

Susan is a former news and traffic reporter and Michael is a college English lecturer. Both are consumed by constant doctors' visits, medical adjustments and keeping Jani stimulated on a minute-by-minute basis.

"She can't be alone unless she involves her hallucinations," Michael said. "We spend our lives trying to compete with the hallucinations."

The couple struggles to keep up with payments on two apartments. They rely on a recent advance Michael received to write a book.

Normal life is just not an option, Susan said while traveling to UCLA to visit Jani.

"You can't live a normal life," she said. "You can't get a treatment and it goes away. This is a lifetime."

Michael and Susan's biggest fear is losing Jani. About 10 percent of schizophrenics die by suicide.

In December 2008, Michael said Jani tried to jump out of a window.

"We want to give her enough moments of happiness that she doesn't ever decide to give up the fight," Michael said. "We fear that if we did not give her those moments, that she would quit."

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