A young girl daydreaming in class


When is daydreaming more than daydreaming?

Recognizing not-so-subtle signs of seizures in children and teens

Many people often think of seizures as being very noticeable with full body tremors, but there are many "small" seizures that can be harder to detect.

For example, what appears to be an increased amount of daydreaming or staring off into space might actually be signs your child is experiencing small seizures. Staring can be associated with a wide variety of seizure types but is often associated with absence seizures.

An absence seizure typically lasts five to 15 seconds and, while seen in all ages, is very common in childhood. These seizures are often noticed by parents and especially by teachers in a classroom setting. At first it might appear the child is not paying attention in class. The teacher might get frustrated as the child will appear to be daydreaming and unresponsive. When the seizure ends, the child may see that the teacher is upset but won't understand why since the child is unaware during the seizure.

To determine if your child is daydreaming or experiencing a small seizure:

  • check for a vacant look in your child's eyes
  • get in front of your child's face and ask "can you hear me?"
  • point to the ceiling and ask your child to look where you are pointing
  • tell your child to remember a word or phrase such as "green duck" — if he or she can't remember, he or she could be having a seizure
  • watch for lip smacking, picking at clothing, eye blinking/fluttering, humming or other repetitive activity while staring

Mild seizures do not cause brain damage, but can be dangerous if they happen at the wrong time, such as while riding a bike, which could result in a crash. Additionally, if a child has hundreds of 10-second seizures throughout the school day, his or her grades and performance in school can suffer. 

Other common seizures in children and teens include:

  • Myoclonic seizures. These are episodes of brief muscle jerks when a child is wide awake and commonly occur in the morning.  
  • Convulsive/clonic seizures. These happen during sleep and may or may not be witnessed. If your child wakes up with her tongue bitten, has aching muscles or has wet the bed (when past potty training) she might have experienced a convulsive seizure.

In my experience, moms in particular do an outstanding job at knowing if something is off with their children. If you see something that doesn't seem right, make an appointment with your provider to arrange an evaluation. If seizures are suspected, an electroencephalography (EEG) can help determine what type of seizure the child is experiencing and what type of treatment is best.


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