An exploration of the psychosocial effects that school-age children with Child Absence Epilepsy (CAE) experience when their condition is misdiagnosed as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses - 2009 Archive

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Martin Paul Raffaele

MPhil thesis, conferred 2009

In today's society, the misdiagnosis of school-age children with the neurological condition Child Absence Epilepsy (CAE) as having Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has a low profile. This may be because of the lack of popular awareness of CAE. The increasing social salience towards the neuropsychological condition of ADHD places these children at risk of experiencing high psychosocial effects. Many symptoms of CAE are also associated with ADHD. However if the condition is misdiagnosed as ADHD, the child with CAE is often mistreated, both medically and socially until the correct diagnosis is made.

There is little research available on the psychosocial effects of the misdiagnosis of epilepsy as ADHD, and none available relating to CAE. This research study uses case study methodology to focus on how children with CAE are psychosocially affected at the time of the misdiagnosis of ADHD and subsequently. It also explores the experiences of their parents.

An in-depth interview method was adopted to gather the personal recollections of these effects directly from the ten participants in this study. The participants were found with the assistance of Epilepsy Australia and constituted one adolescent from five different families who had experienced the sequence of events and effects under investigation, and a parent (guardian) who cared for these children during this period.

The findings of this research indicate that as a result of labelling, these children were misjudged in their communities, leaving strong psychosocial effects on each of the child participants who had previously been misdiagnosed with ADHD. These effects include low self-esteem, insecurity and fear experienced most often in the company of peers. As a result, when reaching adulthood, most of these participants chose to isolate themselves from social contact whenever possible. The findings offer a basis for further research in the area.

Supervisor: Dr Susan Colmar