Epilepsy in infancy can be catastrophic

The human brain is not fully developed at birth. Throughout infancy and early childhood, the brains of children go through an extended period of growth and maturation. If seizures occur during this critical time, they can cause serious disturbances in cognitive, behavioral, and psychiatric function. Experts agree that “early surgical intervention is critical in infants with catastrophic epilepsy to prevent developmental arrest/aggression.”

Seizures, or abnormal brain waves in between seizures, that start early in life are more likely to be associated with intellectual deficit and reduction in brain volume.

Ongoing seizures can cause development to “freeze in time”

Developmental arrest – where the child’s cognitive and motor functions “freeze in time” – can occur if drug-resistant seizures do not stop.  Infantile spasms and other seizure types can cause child’s development to stop almost completely.

Psychiatric dysfunction

Drug-resistant seizures, as well as the abnormal EEG in between seizures, can cause a child to have epileptic encephalopathy – a serious disturbance in overall mental function and cognitive impairment. This can, for example, cause symptoms such as autistic characteristics. Language may be slow to develop or regress significantly.


The greatest risk for developing autism for children with epilepsy is among children whose seizures begin at age two or earlier.



Roberto Tuchman, MD. Autism and Epilepsy: What Has Regression Got to Do with It? Epilepsy Curr. 2006 Jul; 6(4): 107–111.

 Cross, et al. Proposed criteria for referral and evaluation of children for epilepsy surgery: Recommendations of the sub commission for pediatric epilepsy surgery. Epilepsia. 47(6):952-959 (2006).

 Clark, Df. et al. The prevalence of autistic spectrum disorder in children surveyed in a tertiary care epilepsy clinic. Epilepsia. 2005 46: 1970-1077.