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Child Absence Seizures (Petit mal)

By Edited Sep 22, 2016 0 0

Toddlers Playing

A Mother's intuition will always reign as the most powerful tool when determining if an infant or toddler is not "acting normally". A Mother's intuition is most valuable during the early stages of a child's life, such as infancy or toddler, basically before the child can clearly speak. Children create signs that only a Mother can understand. One particular concern is in regards to Absence Seizures.

In this article I'll define an Absence Seizure, discuss a symptom you should look for, and then provide a general path to diagnosis. My goal with this article is to create awareness and empower you with some information to take to your Pediatrician. The power of information to either diagnose the symptom as "nothing" or "something" is instrumental to early childhood development. As you read this article, if you believe your Child experiences these symptoms, consult your Pediatrician, and let Mother's intuition drive you to fully explore Absence Seizures. It is always in your best interest to get multiple opinions, so consult a coupe neurophysioligsts as well.


Absence Seizure (a.k.a. Petit mal): A form of epilepsy with very brief, unannounced lapses in consciousness

Petit mal is a french phrase for "little illness". Petit mal seizures take the form of a staring spell; the person suddenly seems to be "absent."


As the definition states, the infant, toddler or child seems absence minded for a short period of time. In many circumstances parents confuse the absence mind state as daydreaming. But there is a subtle difference. When we daydream we deliberatly focus on an action or activity. We "dream" of how you want or desire something to be. Also, daydreaming can be "snapped" out of by someone calling your name, snapping their finger or clapping their hands in front of your face. Lastly, when daydreaming, you can quickly remember what it was you were dreaming about. Unfortunately for an infant or toddler that can not speak yet, asking them to tell you what they were dreaming of will not work.

With an absence state (Petit mal) the mind litteraly "turns off". In infants and toddlers the head may cock to the side, they will stare blankly as if they were daydreaming, and no action to snap them out of it will work. The absence mind symptom lasts only a short period of time. Maybe 30 seconds. The child will then resume activity as normal. The situation will occur randomly, maybe two times a month, maybe more often or less (i.e. once per month).

During play is the best time to witness these absent mind situations. Some examples include: Pushing your child on a swing from the front. If during this play they suddenly become "out of mind", maybe tilting their head to once side, then return to normal play, it may be a sign of an Absence Seizure. You may also be playing on the floor with toys and the toddler stops then stares off for a 20-30 seconds. Then he/she will suddenly return to normal activity. Again, a possible sign of Absence Seizure.

In each of these situation it becomes critical that you track it. I recommend writing down the following information each time the symptom comes up:

1) Date and Time

2) Activity Child was doing

3) Length of time child seemed absence minded

4) Did you try and snap the child out of it? Did it work?

5) Did child resume normal activity?

6) Any further things occur later on that day (i.e. vomitting, extremely tired (slept long time))


With the information you gather, you now have created the single most important set of information for diagnosis. With this timeline of events you should meet with your Pediatrician and explain in detail what ocurred. At this juncture is where Mother's intuition takes hold. When consulting with your Pediatrician make sure you get a solid answer or recommendation. The recommedation may be to see a child neurologist. Do it! Pediatricians are a wealth of knowledge, but some naturally don't commit to a diagnosis or even a recommendation, placing the decision on you. I recommend in this scenario to always go see a child neurolgist. It will provide the peace of mind for ruling ailments out or focus on a treatment.

Some testing will likely be recommended. The three most common will be:

1) A series of blood tests

2) EEG

3) MRI

The blood tests are valuable to determine any genetic concerns or other information. In many cases this will come back normal, but its important to rule out ailments or treat properly based on the results

An EEG (Electroencephalogram) is a test that measures the electrical activity in the brain, called brain waves. An EEG measures brain waves through small button electrodes that are placed on your child's scalp. The test results will be reviewed by a neurophysioligist. EEGs are the most successful test to determine absence seizures. The most difficult part of the test is to keep the child calm and not reach for the electrodes. It is a painless test, but children are curious or sensitive and need to be comforted throughout.

Lastly, an MRI will review the developmental make-up of the brain. If when watching your child you see preference to the right or left side, the MRI may pick up sone developmental differences between the right and left side of the brain. Preference to a particular side (i.e. left or right) is very uncommon in infants and toddlers. So be watchful of your children at that age. Once kids are speaking clearly, preference becomes more common as they develop the right or left handed writing style. Its at the non-speaking age that preference is uncommmon.

The most valuable test will be the EEG. These results will clearly determine treatments or rule out the absence seizure diagnosis.


There is not "cure" for absence seizures. I've read several articles and discussed with multiple doctor's that absence seizures are common in children up through the age of 9. It may occur for 2-3 years, then go away all together as they approach adulthood. Nonetheless, there seems to be general agreement that absence seizures to go away.

For treatment though, medicine is the preference. You will need to follow the Doctor's instructions, but ultimately the medicine acts as a preventer. Like I mentioned, its not clear at what age, or if ever these go away, but the medicine does work and should be taken as directed.

Closing Remarks:

Your child(ren) will always be the most valuable and prescious asset in your life. When ailments occur we do our best to solve and treat them. Some ailments provide no warning signs. Still others, like absence seizures, provide signs, but are similar to everyday normal things we experience as adults and we often times ignore them. Please use your intuition and if any sign of daydreaming is occuring with your infant or toddler, to write down the situation. Track it with my tips above and consult your Peditrician. Get more than one opinion and do sign up for the battery of tests. I know its stressfull and time consuming, but the results will guide you and your child to lifetime of happiness.



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