If your child had a seizure, would you know it? And would you know what to do?
What is a seizure?
A seizure is a brief period of time when a person’s brain has a surge of electrical activity. The surge temporarily alters consciousness, perceptions, and/or muscle control. Children with Cerebral Palsy, Autism, mental retardation, or any neurological disorder are at higher risk for experiencing a seizure. It’s a good idea for parents to recognize the symptoms and know what to do.
Possible signs of a seizure:
- Staring Spells. If your child has episodes of staring into space, make it a point to observe him carefully. After the spell, can he tell you what he was “thinking” about? Does he have any memory of the incident? In the case of a seizure, your child will seem to blank out momentarily, and not remember it afterwards. This is harder to determine in a non-verbal child. Look for other signs during the spells such as mild twitching, irregular blinking, or unusual facial movements. This kind of seizure is called an absence seizure, as if the child is “absent” from the world around him for several seconds.
- Strange Smells or Tastes. If your child complains that she smells unusual odors, or has a funny taste in her mouth, these could be signs of a simple partial seizure. Other symptoms include goose bumps or chills for no apparent reason, sweating without cause, and feeling suddenly fearful or euphoric when those feelings are oddly out of place. After experiencing a simple partial seizure, the child would remember what she felt and could talk about it.
- Sudden Meaningless Behavior. This kind of seizure might start as a staring spell, and turn into lip-smacking, picking at clothes, and walking aimlessly. Strange behavior might be observed, such as repeating a word or phrase, removing clothing, or running toward the street. This is difficult to differentiate from say, the typical behavior of an autistic child, but the parent should look for brief episodes where the child seems disconnected and not himself. This is called a complex partial seizure.
- Uncontrolled Body Movements. This could include anything from an arm or leg jerking suddenly (as most people have experienced on occasion when they were drifting off to sleep), to the child dropping to the ground, stiffening, and twitching violently. This would be considered a general seizure, where both sides of the body are involved and the child is affected from head to toe. He might wet himself, bite his tongue, moan, or cry. These kinds of seizures are called atonic, tonic, tonic-clonic, and myoclonic, depending on the symptoms.
What should I do if my child has a seizure?
- For milder seizures, such as absence seizures or staring spells, make an appointment for your child to see his pediatrician. Explain exactly what you are observing. The doctor may want to conduct some tests. In many cases, these milder forms of seizure will disappear when a child is in his teens.
- If your child begins convulsing (muscle jerking and stiffening)quickly guide her to a safe space where she won’t injure herself.
- Do not put anything in the child’s mouth.
- Do not restrain the child.
- Do not shout, scream, or become panicked. Calmly wait out the seizure.
- If the seizure continues longer than five minutes, or if this is your child’s first seizure, call 911.
- After the seizure, do not give the child food or drink until he is completely recovered.
- Children with repeated seizures should not ride bikes in the street or climb trees, etc., without careful supervision.
Although frightening, most isolated seizures are not harmful. There are also medications available which can prevent seizures from occurring, or greatly lessen their frequency and/or severity. For children with epilepsy or repeated seizure syndromes, however, the prognosis varies. In these more severe cases, a complete cure may be unlikely. Thus, a good relationship with a motivated, caring physician is vital. Medication combinations may be experimented with, and surgery may be an option. Research is ongoing and your contributions and support in the cause of finding cures is needed. (See my blog “How You Can Help the Sick and the Suffering.”)
Children with seizure disorders are eligible for Special Education Services, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA).