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Narrative abilities of children with epilepsy


Address correspondence to: Nan Bernstein Ratner, Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, 0100 Lefrak Hall, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA; e-mail:



There is a noticeable publication gap in the speech–language pathology literature regarding the language abilities of children with common types of epilepsy. This paper reviews studies that suggest a high frequency of undetected language problems in this population, and it proposes the need for pragmatically based assessment of children with epilepsy that includes analysis of spontaneous language skills.


To compare the language skills of two groups of children with epilepsy—those with recent onset seizures and those with more chronic seizure activity (>3 years’ duration)—using a mix of standardized tests, analysis of elicited narratives and listener judgments of the children's narratives.

Methods & Procedures

Twenty-five children with epilepsy, divided into two groups (recent onset versus chronic), were age- and gender-matched to 25 typically functioning peers. In addition to standardized IQ and language testing, children produced narratives to accompany the book Frog, Where Are You? (1969). Narratives were analysed for syntax, vocabulary and narrative components. Forty-five adult listeners each blindly rated nine narratives to create a large pool of listener judgments.

Outcomes & Results

Children with chronic epilepsy showed the greatest and significant differences in both language skill and listener judgments from their unaffected peers. Differences were smaller for children whose epilepsy was of more recent onset and their matched peers.

Conclusions & Implications

Although based on cross-sectional data rather than on longitudinal study, the current results raise the possibility that continued seizures, or prolonged exposure to the medications used to control them, produce decrements in children's language performance over time. Thus, the authors strongly urge that there is greater awareness of seizure disorder among speech-and-language pathologists/therapists, and they strongly recommend baseline testing at first diagnosis so that changes over time can be reliably documented.