Epilepsy may affect language development

  • Deborah Condon

Epileptic activity in the brain may affect the development of language in children, the results of a new study indicate.

Anyone can have a seizure if the brain is exposed to a strong enough stimulus. One in every 20 people will have a single seizure at some time during their lives. However, people with epilepsy have recurring seizures. This is caused by abnormal electrical impulses in the brain. Up to 40,000 people in Ireland are estimated to have epilepsy.

Swedish researchers divided 60 children of different ages into three groups. The first comprised of children with language dysfunction, such as slow speech development or inadequate language comprehension.

The second group consisted of children with epilepsy, while the third comprised of children with language dysfunction and epileptic brain activity, sometimes without seizures.

“We reviewed patient records of children with residual speech and language problems at school start and could see that these children also had other underlying problems,” the researchers from the University of Gothenburg said.

The study showed that epilepsy (with seizures) and epileptic brain activity (with or without seizures) were more common in the children with speech and language difficulties than in children in general.


The researchers then wanted to investigate whether the epileptic activity was the cause of the children’s language dysfunction or whether other factors affected their language development. To do this, they looked at speech and language ability in preschool children with various forms of epilepsy.


“We found that these children had certain language problems – they found it difficult to express themselves but had a good understanding of language,” they explained.

The greatest problems were found in children with epileptic activity in the left side of the brain, which controls our linguistic ability.


The next step was to look at children with both speech and language dysfunction and epileptic brain activity and follow up their speech, language and other cognitive abilities after some years.


“We found that more than half the children of school age and young adults still had some form of language difficulties, while a few had normal linguistic abilities. There was no difference between the children with continuously slow language development and those who had experienced a loss or deterioration of their language - so called epileptic aphasia,” the researchers said.


They concluded that more children with language dysfunction should be given EEGs to find an explanation for the underlying mechanisms and to ensure that the right care and treatment is given. An EEG (lectroencephalogram) is able to register a seizure.


The researchers said that in some cases, medical treatment could be considered to block the epileptic activity in the brain, and in this way reduce the impact on a child’s language development.


“We hope that the results of our research will lead to a new way of looking at various diagnoses of language dysfunction and epileptic brain activity. More than anything, we need a completely new diagnosis for children with slow language development and epileptic brain activity,” they added.


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