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J Child Neurol. 2005 Mar;20(3):175-80.

Educational underachievement in children with epilepsy: a model to predict the effects of epilepsy on educational achievement.

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Department of Behavioural Research and Clinical Neuropsychology, Epilepsy Centre Kempenhaeghe, Heeze, The Netherlands.


In this study, we evaluated the impact on educational achievement of four characteristics of epilepsy individually and combined: epilepsy syndrome (type of epilepsy), seizure type, the frequency of epileptiform electroencephalographic (EEG) discharges, and the effect of antiepileptic treatment. Simultaneously, the effect on cognitive function and the relationship between educational underachievement and cognitive impairment were evaluated, focusing on memory, attention, speed of information processing, and intelligence level. This study was an open, controlled, parallel-group, nonrandomized clinical investigation. Eligible patients were selected when referred to our center for assessment of relationships between epilepsy and learning impairment in the years 1997 to 2001. Separately, children without neurologic deficit and without educational delay were assessed with the same tests as the children with epilepsy. This latter group is used in this study as a control group. One hundred seventy-six children with epilepsy and 113 controls were included. Gender distribution and age were comparable for the two groups. All children were in regular primary education. The children were assessed with a test battery consisting of tests for educational achievement, cognitive tests and tests for reaction time, and tests for memory and intelligence. Multivariate analysis of variance for tests of educational achievement showed a statistically significant effect for type of epilepsy (F = 4.386; P = .04), caused by the statistically lower scores for patients with localized epilepsy and symptomatic generalized epilepsy. For the reaction-time tests, a statistically significant effect for epileptiform EEG discharges (F = 3.165; P = .01) and treatment (F = 4.472; P = .001) on both vigilance tests was found, caused by patients with frequent epileptiform EEG discharges and polytherapy. Two-way interactions showed an interaction with type of epilepsy, with more patients with symptomatic generalized epilepsy having frequent epileptiform EEG discharges and polytherapy. For memory, none of the analyses showed statistically significant effects. For intelligence only for type of epilepsy, a statistically significant effect was found (F = 10.174; P = < .001). We propose a model with the type of epilepsy (epilepsy syndrome) as the dominant factor explaining educational underachievement in children with epilepsy. Such educational underachievement is most prominent for the localized and symptomatic generalized epilepsies, which suggests a dominant impact of underlying etiology (brain dysfunction or damage). These epilepsies are characterized specifically by a lower intelligence; hence, this could be the primary cognitive factor mediating between the type of epilepsy and educational underachievement. From the other factors, treatment (the use of polytherapy) and frequent epileptiform EEG discharges are associated with impaired vigilance, which could have an additional influence on educational achievement. These factors are, however, not independent of the type of epilepsy.

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