Speech Therapy for Epilepsy

February 19, 2016By: VocoVision

Among other things, epilepsy increases a child’s risk of developing speech and language deficits. This is an area that needs to be addressed early on, as it can greatly affect a child’s ability to interact with peers and educators, thereby making education as a whole more challenging.

The Science

A 2010 study from researchers at the University of Gothenburg saw a correlation between children who had a good understanding of language but who had difficulty expressing themselves and epileptic activity. Specifically, children who were experiencing epileptic activity in the left hemisphere, the region of the brain that controls language. While this study was done on a small scale, it highlights the need to find new diagnostic testing methodologies to help identify the cause of underlying speech delays and to possibly treat seizures more aggressively to minimize damage done to the language centers of the brain.

Factors Contributing to Language Outcome

Not all children with epilepsy will have severe language deficits. One factor, as illustrated in the previous study, is the region of the brain where the seizures occur. Other factors include:

  • Age at which seizures begin – early onset tends to produce more difficulties
  • Intellectual aptitude
  • Seizure variables such as duration and control
  • The cause of epilepsy
  • The type of epilepsy
  • Types of intervention such as therapy, medication, and support in educational setting.

It is important to note that there is not a single language profile that can be ascribed to all patients with epilepsy.

When should intervention begin?

As soon as a child is diagnosed with epilepsy, parents should talk to the child’s doctor about the benefits of speech and language therapy. As with most speech conditions, beginning early can greatly increase the effectiveness of the intervention. For children who are very young when epilepsy sets in, this can be difficult for many parents to understand. However, early intervention allows the speech therapist to ensure that any language delays or losses are dealt with as quickly as possible to limit their impact on the child’s academic abilities.

What are some of the most common speech issues?

The connection between speech and language issues and epilepsy has not been studied as extensively as speech difficulties caused by other medical issues. However, there are some common issues, such as:

  • Auditory agnosia
  • Impaired language progress
  • Impaired phonological processing
  • Irregular language or speech dysfunction
  • Language stagnation
  • Slow development of language

Auditory Agnosia

Of the issues listed above, auditory agnosia seems to be associated more strongly with epilepsy, and to be more confusing for parents. There are three types of auditory agnosia, however the type most commonly associated with epilepsy is linguistic agnosia. This type causes patients to be unable to understand words that are spoken. This is why sign language is so often successful in helping these children learn to communicate. When used in conjunction with speech therapy, children with linguistic agnosia may even learn to utilize speech.

It is clear more research is needed in determining the correlation between epilepsy and speech and language development. While patients wait for new developments, it is important that parents be vigilant in watching for speech or language delays, and making sure their child receives treatment as soon as they are noticed. Being aware that there is a connection will make it more likely delays will be noticed and addressed early, and hopefully minimize the overall loss of language.

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