“My Child Keeps Staring into Space.” Is it ADHD? Or a Seizure Disorder?

Before we found the right medication and dose for my stepdaughter Sunni, who has ADHD, she would often stare into space. One of her teachers explained that Sunni would sit in her chair with her head tilted and her eyes focusing on some imaginary object far away. “I can always tell when I’ve lost her focus,” the teacher said. At home, Sunni occasionally would get glassy-eyed and drift into her own thoughts. I began to get a little bit concerned about it, so I mentioned it to her doctor. He wanted to be sure that the staring wasn’t a symptom of seizure activity. He asked me several questions and asked me to make observations over the next few weeks.

Since ADHD may be connected to prefrontal abnormalities and interrupted dopamine function, there could be a physiological explanation for these episodes of “spacing out.” However, some mini-seizures can also give a child a zoned out appearance. It’s important to understand the difference between daydreaming and seizures.

Seizure Staring

  1. When a child is staring during a seizure, the episodes can happen unexpectedly at any time, and will interrupt whatever she is doing, like eating, talking on the phone, playing with toys, etc.
  2. His or her eyes may blink rapidly or flutter, and the child may twitch, smack lips, or make facial grimaces.
  3. If you call out to your child or tap him on the shoulder during the episode, there will be no response. You will not be able to get him to “snap out of it.”
  4. During a seizure, the child will have no recollection of anything that happened during the episode.

ADHD Staring

  1. This kind of daydreaming will typically (but not always) happen when the child is bored or overwhelmed. You will likely see a pattern, like the child might daydream often in the afternoons, or during a certain subject in school.
  2. The child with ADHD is not likely to twitch or flutter her eyes or have any other strange body movements during the staring episodes.
  3. If you touch the child’s shoulder or call his name, he should be able to stop the daydreaming and respond to you.
  4. The child with ADHD may have some vague idea of what was being said or discussed while she was staring into space. The episode will not feel like she “blacked out,” but rather like she was in a fog.

Fortunately, Sunni’s daydreaming was determined to be a symptom of her ADHD. If you’re concerned about your son or daughter, certainly bring it up with your pediatrician. For more information on seizures in special needs children, see my blog, “Childhood Seizures: What Parents Should Know.”

Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here. Some links on this blog may have been generated by outside sources are not necessarily endorsed by Kristyn Crow.