Children's understanding of epilepsy: A qualitative study

Epilepsy Behav. 2021 Jul:120:107994. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2021.107994. Epub 2021 May 5.


Purpose: To use a qualitative research approach to determine children's understandings of epilepsy and their epilepsy treatment.

Methods: Children aged 7-16 years with physician-confirmed active epilepsy (i.e., having had an epileptic seizure in the past year and or currently taking antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), and not known to have an intellectual disability, were invited to participate. Children had semi-structured interviews separately on two occasions. Between the first and second interviews, an observation of a routine epilepsy clinic appointment of individual children was conducted, and was then discussed during the second interview. Participatory research tools were used in both child interviews to facilitate discussions. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed, pseudonymized and entered into NVivo (version 12, QSR International). Data were analyzed using a thematic approach.

Results: Twenty-three children of mean age 10.1 years (range 8-14), mean duration of epilepsy of 4.6 years (range 2-10) were enrolled. Twelve were 12 female; 7 had focal, 14 had generalized, and 2 had combined epilepsy; 20 were on monotherapy; and 16 had tried previous AEDs. All had an initial (first) interview; 20 were observed during a clinic appointment and had a second interview. Five broad themes emerged: understanding of epilepsy; understanding of seizures; understanding of medication; understanding of children's role in clinical appointments; influences on children's understanding. Children spoke about what epilepsy meant by describing the physical sensations of having a seizure or through the act of taking medication. Children described the role they had, or felt they should have, but reported challenges in being meaningfully involved in clinical appointments. While healthcare professionals were initial information nodes, epilepsy information from parents appeared to be more significant for children.

Conclusions: The perspectives of children with epilepsy are valuable for clinicians to understand; assumptions should not be made that children's views can be accessed via parents. Clinicians need to be constantly aware of children's views and ways of understanding and communicating about their epilepsy. To support this, the research - drawing on children's words, meanings, and stories - was used to inform an easily accessible, gender-neutral, animation about epilepsy that provides information about the condition, seizures, and medication (

Keywords: Animation; Children; Epilepsy; Information; Qualitative; Understanding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • Child
  • Epilepsy*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Parents*
  • Qualitative Research