How to Tell If My Child Is Having Silent Seizures?

Written by sandra ketcham
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Silent seizures, also called absence or petit mal seizures, result from abnormal electrical activity in the brain. They are more common in children than adults, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, and nearly always begin between the ages of 4 and 12 years. Silent seizures may be infrequent or may occur many times throughout the day and night. Because silent seizures are typically brief, lasting only seconds, they are difficult to recognise in young children.

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    Watch for staring episodes and a loss of awareness in your child. Silent seizures cause brief episodes of impaired consciousness. These episodes may last only seconds. Your child will appear to stare off vacantly, unable to speak or hear. When the seizure passes, your child may immediately continue with whatever he was doing prior to the seizure.

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    Speak to your child during staring episodes to see if he responds to your voice. The Epilepsy Foundation states that seizures cannot be interrupted by touch, voice, or other stimuli. If you can talk your child out of these episodes, they are likely caused by something other than a silent seizure.

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    Make note of any strange tic-like behaviours in your child, especially if they are new. These automatisms may include fluttering eyelids, lip smacking, unusual hand or arm movements, chewing motions, or even verbal tics.

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    Be alert to any new school problems your child is having, especially if they involve difficulty paying attention, staying on task, or completing assignments. According to the Mayo Clinic, the first sign of absence seizures may be a decline in learning ability and difficulty paying attention in class. If your child's teacher notices these symptoms, and your child has never had difficulties in these areas before, silent seizures may be responsible.

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    Take your child to the paediatrician for blood testing to rule out other potential causes of his symptoms. If your child's paediatrician suspects seizures, she will refer you to a paediatric neurologist for additional testing.

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    Schedule your child for an electroencephalograph, or EEG. This test measures brain activity to determine whether seizures are occurring. Your child may also require a brain scan, such as an MRI, to rule out other neurological problems before a diagnosis of silent seizures is given.

Tips and warnings

  • If left untreated, silent seizures can cause severe disruption at school and home.

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