Family Reunited After Young Girl's Schizophrenia Forced Separation

PHOTO: For more than two years, the Schofields, a Southern California family of four, lived in two separate, rented apartments as they grappled with daughter Janis schizophrenia.Courtesy The Schofield Family
For more than two years, the Schofields, a Southern California family of four, lived in two separate, rented apartments as they grappled with daughter Jani's schizophrenia.

A recent Thursday afternoon found the Schofield family at a chain restaurant in Valencia, Calif. Sister and brother January, 9, and Bodhi, 4, shared macaroni and pizza kids' meals while parents Michael and Susan coordinated their children's busy schedules.

It may have looked like a typical family scene, but for this Southern California family of four it was anything but: At one time, seeing the Schofields all together and at peace would have seemed unthinkable.

January -- nicknamed Jani -- has childhood-onset schizophrenia. As early as age 3, the precocious child who could count to 1,000 began withdrawing from other children, became angry easily and spent more and more time in complex world of imaginary friends. By the age of 5, Jani was experiencing violent hallucinations, in the form of numbers and animals that told her to attack her parents and brother.

Watch more on Jani's story Saturday on "20/20: My Extreme Affliction" at 9 p.m. ET.

"One minute she would be really sweet and loving and all of sudden she'd just turn. Literally it was like the Exorcist -- she would become another person. Her eyes would change, her demeanor changed, her voice flattened out," Michael Schofield told ABC News in 2009. "Her imaginary friends are not imaginary at all but command hallucinations. They tell her to hurt herself or someone else."

Schofield has chronicled the fight to help Jani in a new book, "January First: A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her" which will be published Aug. 7 by Crown.

Schizophrenia is a disabling brain disorder known for causing sensory hallucinations. Cases of childhood-onset schizophrenia such as Jani's are rare but can be extremely severe and resources to help children like Jani are limited. The Schofields battled their insurance company to secure treatment for Jani and struggled to find facilities that would hospitalize her when her condition was at its worst.

Worried about the safety of their younger son and desperate to do whatever it took to provide Jani with a lower-stress environment, the couple made a difficult choice. In the summer of 2009, they moved into two separate apartments, one for each of the two children, with each parent taking turns caring for each child.

"This changed the nature of the war (on Jani's illness) by allowing us to 'evacuate' Bodhi to safety," Michael Schofield wrote on his blog, January First. "With Bodhi no longer under constant threat, we could continue the fight."

Paying two rents placed a financial strain on a family already struggling to afford various medications and psychiatric therapy. Susan, now 42, was laid off from her job as a news and traffic reporter in September 2008. Michael, now 36, took a leave from his job at a state university in the fall of 2009 to help care for Jani.

Michael Schofield, who has since returned to teaching, credits the financial support that the family received from friends and others for helping make the two-apartment solution possible.

"The two apartments bought us time to continue the fight. And those who financially supported us while we did that, I believe, saved Jani's life," he wrote on his blog.

For Jani, continuing the fight meant starting a new medication, Clozaril; taking part in equine therapy, and starting a new school program that provides her one-on-one support with a teacher and a school aide.

Reining in Jani's Imaginary World

Schofield wrote that slowly, they managed to fight Jani's corrosive imaginary world "back to a stalemate" -- so much so that in October, 2011, the family moved back into one apartment.

The Schofields say Jani is no longer a danger to her little brother, who was recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. They told "20/20" that Jani is protective of Bodhi because she understands that he, too, has problems.

Money is still tight for the Schofields and they hope Michael Schofield's book will sell well so that the family can benefit from royalties.

The Schofields are also working to help other families through The Jani Foundation, a group they founded in 2010 to pressure government agencies and others to provide better care for mentally ill children. The foundation also connects donors to families of mentally ill children in need.

Michael Schofield has said that Jani's next challenge is coping with "the social isolation of her disease."

In a recent blog post, Schofield recounted sadly how he watched as Jani failed to sustain a conversation with a girl her age at their apartment complex and how, ultimately, his daughter withdrew to talk to her hallucinations instead.

"This girl has cats. Jani talks to her about her cats, none of whom actually exist, at least not in this universe. I don't bother to tell this girl that Jani's cats are hallucinations. If the other girl believes they are real, that is a connection. And I desperately want Jani to have a connection with a girlfriend," he wrote. "(But) the girl ends up talking to me more than Jani. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch Jani dancing in and out of the conversation..."

"...She continues to come and go, but each time now she gets a little further away and doesn't come as close when she comes back. I know what is happening and it breaks my heart. Jani is giving up on the conversation. Eventually, she drifts away and I hear her talking to one of her hallucination friends."

Schofield said that the only time Jani is truly happy is when she is in the company of other children like her, but those would-be friends live across the country.

Jani "has (to) learn to live in our world," he wrote. "Because being human is just as hard as being schizophrenic."

"20/20" spent almost eight months profiling three families in Southern California whose children suffer from childhood schizophrenia. Watch more on Jani's story and those of others like her Saturday on "20/20: My Extreme Affliction" at 9 p.m. ET.

Click here for more information on childhood schizophrenia.

Read about earlier coverage by "20/20" of children with schizophrenia.