The purposes of this 36-month study of children with first recognized seizures were: (a) to describe baseline differences in behavior problems between children with and without prior unrecognized seizures; (b) to identify differences over time in behavior problems between children with seizures and their healthy siblings, (c) to identify the proportion of children with seizures and healthy siblings who were consistently at risk for behavior problems for 36 months; and (d) to identify risk factors for behavior problems 36 months following the first recognized seizure. Risk factors explored included demographic (child age and gender, caregiver education), neuropsychological (IQ, processing speed), seizure (epileptic syndrome, use of antiepileptic drug AED, seizure recurrence) and family (family mastery, satisfaction with family relationships, parent response) variables.
Participants were 300 children ages 6 through 14 years with a first recognized seizure and 196 healthy siblings. Data were collected from medical records, structured interviews, self-report questionnaires, and neuropsychological testing. Behavior problems were measured using the Child Behavior Checklist and the Teacher’s Report Form. Data analyses included descriptive statistics and linear mixed models.
Children with prior unrecognized seizures were at higher risk for behavior problems at baseline. As a group, children with seizures showed a steady reduction in behavior problems over time. Children with seizures were found to have significantly more behavior problems than their siblings over time and significantly more children with seizures (11.3%) than siblings (4.6%) had consistent behavior problems over time. Key risk factors for child behavior problems based on both caregivers and teachers were: less caregiver education, slower initial processing speed, slowing of processing speed over the first 36 months, and a number of family variables including lower levels of family mastery or child satisfaction with family relationships, lower parent support of the child’s autonomy, and lower parent confidence in their ability to discipline their child.
Children with new-onset seizures who are otherwise developing normally have higher rates of behavior problems than their healthy siblings; however, behavior problems are not consistently in the at-risk range in most children during the first three years after seizure onset. When children show behavior problems, family variables that might be targeted include family mastery, parent support of child autonomy, and parent confidence in their ability to handle their children’s behavior.
Keywords: First Seizures, Children, Behavior Problems, Processing Speed, Family Response