What are the Symptoms of Narcolepsy in Children?
Most of the symptoms that are present in adult Narcolepsy patients are seen in children with Narcolepsy. The big four symptoms, most commonly used to identify narcoleptic patients are the same four symptoms that adults look for.
The BIG FOUR
- Daytime Sleepiness: Narcoleptic children are always tired during the day, even if they slept a healthy amount the night before. Children with Narcolepsy fall asleep many times throughout the day and experience a hard time staying awake.
- Cataplexy: Like in narcoleptic adults, Cataplexy is a very rare development that accompanies the disorder. It is just as possible for narcoleptic children to develop Cataplexy as it is for older patiyou’rents, but it is much more dangerous in small children. Most young children need constant supervision to ensure their safety. Children with Cataplexy need much more physical attention and cautionary care than other children. Children with Cataplexy are often seen as despondent or depressed. Strong emotional responses like laughter could cause them to suddenly fall into a Cataplexy episode, so they are scared to encounter the emotional response.
- Sleep Paralysis: Children with Narcolepsy often experience periods of paralysis when falling asleep and/or waking up. For a short period of time, ranging from a few seconds to a few moments, the child experiencing sleep paralysis has no control over their ability to move their body, speak, or even move their eyes. The child is completely aware the entire time, but unable to function.
- Hypnagogic Hallucinations: Hypnagogic Hallucinations in narcoleptic children are often misdiagnosed as simple “bad dreams” or night terrors. If your child is experiencing habitual, vividly overwhelming dreams, you may want to look deeper at the root of the problem.
Other Symptoms of Narcolepsy in Children:
Children with Narcolepsy may also exhibit other physical symptoms of their disorder. In fact, hyperactivity and lack of focus are two of the most commonly identified symptoms of Narcolepsy in children.
- Problems Falling Asleep
- Sudden Deep Sleep
- Excessive Day Sleep
- Disrupted Sleeping Patterns
- Automatic Behavior
- Memory Loss
- Lack of Concentration
- Falling Grades
- Substance Abuse
- Low Motivation
- Mood Swings
- Difficulty Keeping up with Peers
How is Narcolepsy in Children Diagnosed?
Children who may be suffering from Narcolepsy are diagnosed in the same fashion as adults. After a thorough physical examination of the child, a thorough record of personal and family medical history will be taken. If a diagnosis cannot be reached, the child may be referred to a sleep clinic where they will be suggested to participate in a sleep study- most commonly the polysomnogram and the Multiple Sleep Latency Test.
How Can you Treat Children and Narcolepsy?
- Medication: Prescription medications are often given to treat the effects of Narcolepsy in children. Antidepressants and hyperactivity medications like Adderall and Ritalin are most common.
- Behavior Modification:
- Follow an extremely strict sleeping schedule- Wake up and fall asleep at the same times everyday.
- Before bed, do relaxing activities with your child; read them a book or give them a bath. Do the same activity before bed every night to instill a sense of routine and composure in your child.
- Change, or rearrange medications under the supervision of a medical professional.
- Avoid dangerous activities like swimming, coking, driving, or playing unsupervised. Activities that require a certain level of risk involved are only recommended for the times of day when a young child or adolescent feels most alert.
- Encourage your child to increase their physical activity during the day. Exercise will help your child’s brain regulate sleeping patterns, as well as keep the immune system healthy and powerful.
- Keep your child away from tasks they may find boring or too repetitive. An interested child is an alert child.
- Eat healthy meals with your child at a scheduled time. Meals should consist of well balanced, small portions of food and should be eaten more frequently throughout the day.
- Napping Schedule: If your child is suffering from Narcolepsy, try your best to help them get an adequate amount of sleep every night; this means including a sleeping schedule that accommodates the suggested amount of sleep for the age group of your child. Deciding whether or not a narcoleptic child is safe to nap during the day can be tricky. Generally, it is recommended that parents let narcoleptic children take one to two short naps during the day, but no more than absolutely needed.
Tips for Caring for Children with Narcolepsy
- Narcolepsy is a scary and overwhelming disease for all age groups who struggle with it. Many adult narcoleptics feel a sense of shame and embarrassment surrounding the oddity of their disorder. Imagine how that embarrassment must feel to a young child who just found out that they’re different from everyone else. It’s going to be a long, winding, and sometimes painful road for your child when it comes to managing and accepting their disorder.
- As a parent, your job is to be there for children whenever they need it. Be an open book; if your child has questions about their medical condition, tell them the truth. Help your child know that they are still beautiful and normal even though they have a disorder that sets them apart. You are going to be their biggest support system while they struggle to deal with the complications of childhood Narcolepsy.
- Help your child follow all of the treatment suggestions given by your doctor. If your child was prescribed medication, make sure that they take it accordingly and responsibly. If your doctor places any dietary or physical restrictions on your child, help them stick to the commitment.
- Education and conversation is the key to making a young child with Narcolepsy, or any other uncommon disorder, feel comfortable. If your child, or the child of someone close to you, has recently been diagnosed with an uncommon disorder, make sure that you make the effort to educate the people around you on the subject. Help them understand the symptoms and causes of Narcolepsy in children.
- Plan for a future that includes a child with Narcolepsy. Evaluate how this development will affect your home, work, education, and family. Start planning for the necessary changes that must occur to accommodate a child with Narcolepsy early so that you will be well-prepared for situations yet to come.
- Let your family, friends, colleagues, and school administrators know about your child’s condition as soon as possible; this way, all the necessary modifications that need to be made to suit your child’s special needs will be in place prior to your arrival. If you fail to point out your child’s unique medical and physical needs, they may gain a false reputation of laziness or unintelligence.
- Look for support in the community. Narcolepsy is not a common disorder, but you’d be surprised to see how much support is right around the corner. Look for support groups in town, and in surrounding locations, that are geared towards assisting children with debilitating disorders like Narcolepsy or Cataplexy.
- If you have trouble finding a support group locally, ask your doctor or medical care provider. In some cases, your medical professional may not be to knowledgeable about sleep disorders and testing. When they are unable to point you in the right direction, try your local universities and libraries.
- When looking for support locally fails, hop on the internet and see what you can find near you.