The differential diagnosis and treatment of catatonia in children and adolescents

Aaron J. Hauptman, Sheldon Benjamin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Learning objectives: After participating in this activity, learners should be better able to: •Assess the etiologies associated with catatonia in children and adolescents • Evaluate the differential diagnosis of pediatric catatonia • Interpret the literature regarding the treatment of children and adolescents with catatonia Objective: Pediatric catatonia is associated with many medical and psychiatric conditions. Mortality is high, and proper treatment can be lifesaving. Catatonia is increasingly recognized in pediatric populations, in which about 20% of cases are related to underlying medical conditions. To minimize morbidity, clinicians must rule out underlying disorders while simultaneously managing symptoms and causes. In our review we discuss (1) recommendations to aid rapid decision making, both diagnostic and therapeutic, (2) emergent conditions and management, (3) disorders associated with pediatric catatonia, including developmental, acquired, idiopathic, and iatrogenic etiologies, (4) available treatments, and (5) medicolegal considerations. Methods: Initial PubMed search without date constraints using MeSH terms related to pediatric catatonia, with subsequent searches on pertinent subtopics using PubMed and Google Scholar. Results: Pediatric catatonia is a dangerous but treatable neuropsychiatric condition. Psychiatrists need to be aware of differential diagnoses and to be able determine appropriate treatment within a short time frame.With prompt diagnosis and treatment, outcomes can be optimized. Conclusion: Pediatric catatonia is underdiagnosed and requires rapid evaluation and management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-395
Number of pages17
JournalHarvard review of psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism
  • Autoimmune limbic encephalitis
  • Catatonia
  • Catatonia due to a general medical condition
  • Child psychiatry emergencies
  • Electroconvulsive therapy
  • Neurodevelopmental disorder
  • Neuropsychiatry
  • Pediatric catatonia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'The differential diagnosis and treatment of catatonia in children and adolescents'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this