Epilepsy and Behaviour Problems – Causes and Providing Support

24th August 2021

Approximately 30% – 50% of children with epilepsy will also experience behavioural issues or mental health problems. As a general rule of thumb, behavioural problems are more severe in children who begin to experience seizures from a young age. 

What causes behavioural problems? 

When it comes to epilepsy, there are several aspects that can contribute to increased behavioural problems. It could be any one or a combination of clinical factors, including: 

  • Brain injury 
  • Seizure activity 
  • Side effects of seizure medication

Any of these could be the cause of a chemical imbalance in the brain that contributes towards behavioural problems. However, not all potential causes are clinical and it’s also likely that there are social and emotional factors that could also be a reason. 

Children with epilepsy are sometimes over protected due to their diagnosis, which can lead to them feeling isolated and cause them to behave negatively. Being unable to undertake some activities or lead their lives like their peers can lead to feelings of frustration and unhappiness that manifests itself in behavioural problems. 

Not only parents, but other people in the child’s life can also have an effect, such as teachers, other children and other family members. Whilst most people will mean well, and possibly viewed differently due to having epilepsy can be a big contributing factor to feeling isolated and behaving negatively as a result. 

Supporting a child with epilepsy and behaviour problems 

When undertaking care for a child with epilepsy, it’s important to remember that this means caring for the child as a whole, not just the seizures. Epilepsy is complex and varied and can result in many other requirements than seizure control alone. 

It’s crucial that parents and other people in the child’s life consider them as they would any other child, and this includes discipline for behavioural problems. There is often a fear that by disciplining and stressing the child that they will trigger a seizure, but under disciplining is a common reason for behavioural issues. 

In some cases it may be necessary to seek out the advice of a behavioral expert to help. If the cause is clinical, such as through brain injury or medication side effects, it’s important to work closely with the neurologist or relevant healthcare professional to try and minimise the effects. 

In conclusion…

Yes, epilepsy may be associated with behavioural problems in children, and in some cases in adults too for that matter. It’s important to try and identify the cause of the behavioural issues and understand whether they’re clinical or societal. Behavioural issues caused by societal factors can be treated much in the way they can with most children and by ensuring they are in the environment that is best for them. For clinical causes, a change in medication may be required or other treatment methods.