The Stubborn Child

A condition as old as medicine itself. A misunderstood but albeit treatable condition. A condition called epilepsy.

Dr. David Aseda Donkor

He keeps dropping plates and cups. You have had it up to here. He is such a “stubborn” child. Frustration begins to set in and you vent it by giving him the beating of his life. Have you noticed not sparing the rod never seems to do the trick you hoped it would? He keeps dropping the plates and cups.
On an evening stroll with a friend, we chanced upon a very disheartening scene. A young mother serving up a serious beating to her five year old son. Quickly placing myself between mother and son so that the child could take sanctuary behind me, I enquired why such brutality was being meted out. “He always drops my ceramic plates! He does it on purpose just to get me angry!” she blurted out all the while trying to continue the beating. Inferring from how upset she was, these plates must have been very expensive. Quite a significant number of mothers have similar cases at home. The devil’s minion seems to torment them unceasingly.

They would have treated little John or little Ama differently if they knew they were “stubborn” through no fault of theirs. They would have shown a little compassion and spared the rod more frequently if they knew their children suffered from a medical condition. A condition as old as medicine itself. A misunderstood but albeit treatable condition. A condition called epilepsy.

Usually filed under demonic possession or spiritual curse, epilepsy remains a largely misunderstood disease

It's occurrence, however, has been well documented through time and in every culture. It goes by many names in various languages and dialects. It affects more than fifty million people globally. Africa is home to about ten million epilepsy sufferers. Locally, it is estimated that 10 out of every 1000 Ghanaians have epilepsy.

Its debilitating effects on the victim, the stigmata associated with it and how devastating it is to families as a whole, make epilepsy an illness that requires every bit of our attention. There are several types of epilepsy with the commonest being the Grand mal (tonic-clonic seizures). As the name might suggest, it displays a “grand” show marked by the triad; sudden loss of consciousness (blackout/fainting), an increase in muscle tone (stiffness) and clonus (jerkiness of the body).
One may wonder what the link is between epilepsy and the so called stubborn child. An explanation can be offered using another type of epilepsy-the Petit mal otherwise called absence seizures. I have given it a moniker, the “subtle seizure” because of how it can go unnoticed for a very long time. It is common in children mostly below the age of thirteen. This type of epilepsy, like Grand mal epilepsy, is also marked by a sudden loss of consciousness but the child does not fall to the ground, and there is neither stiffness nor jerking. Such children mostly have a blank stare during an episode and are unresponsive even when their attention is being drawn to something. They may have slight flickering of the eyelids. Speech may become slow or be altogether interrupted. The child stands transfixed if an episode occurs during walking. Spoons carrying food towards the child’s mouth would stop mid-air. And probably the most common example, if the child were holding something, they would suddenly drop it.

In these instances, the child is unaware of whatever is happening around them. These attacks are very short, thus lasting a few seconds at a time but the patient can have even up to 100 episodes in a day. This means in a day this child would blackout about one hundred times, having no idea what is going on around him for some seconds. Seconds may sound very short but imagine you were watching one of your favorite movies. Imagine that after every 5 minutes, the screen went blank for 20 seconds and when the movie resumed you were introduced to a totally new scene. How upset would you get, not having an understanding of the movie and probably missing the end? This is exactly how that young child experiences life daily. For several seconds of the day they have no idea what is happening around them. They just black out.

A picture can be painted of little John in his classroom. While his teacher, Miss Turkson teaches the alphabets, he blacks out at the letter “C” and by the time the episode is over, the class is at “O”. This happens to him several times in several lessons throughout the day. No one notices it and he is unaware himself. The unpleasant outcome of this scenario is clear. He will miss out on most of what is being taught in class even though he is present. Unfortunately, quite a significant number of children tagged “unintelligent” are actually suffering from this condition. This goes a long way to affect the child’s confidence and self-esteem as he grows.
Another outcome of absence epilepsy is that in later adulthood, such patients could develop the more vigorous and overt grand mal.

When a child seems to drop things or seems not to do well in class, before you lay a hand, take him to the pediatrician (children’s doctor). He might need medication and tender loving care not a cane. Despite the cause being largely unknown, it is very treatable. The transition from a stubborn and unintelligent child to a healthy, happy and smart child is very possible.