Symptoms of Focal Onset Seizures in Children

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 15, 2022
3 min read

There are many good reasons to learn how to spot the signs of focal onset seizures, which used to be called partial seizures. When you know what to look for, you can better support your child and help others, like teachers, do the same.

Focal onset seizures have a wide range of symptoms in different kids. But you'll usually see the same ones with your child from one seizure to the next.

If your child has movement symptoms, like twitching or jerking, note which side of the body they happen on. The left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and vice versa, so that's good information to give your doctor.

Focal seizures can be hard to notice in kids younger than age 5 or 6. That's because their nervous systems aren't as fully formed.

Your child may just turn their head to one side or suddenly stop an activity. If your kid can't talk yet, they may run to you and hold on tightly.

A focal onset aware seizure is one of the two types of focal onset seizures. It used to be called a simple partial seizure. Your child knows it's happening and can remember it when it's done. Afterward, your child may just go back to doing whatever they were doing before.

What you'll see depends on where in the brain it happens. There are two main groups of symptoms:

Motor symptoms. These involve movement. Your child may:

  • Have twitching or jerking that starts in the face, a finger, or toe and spreads to other parts on the same side of body
  • Have a body part that goes limp and floppy or that stiffens up
  • Look off to one side
  • Turn their head to one side and maybe raise an arm up in the air

After the seizure, the parts of their body that had the symptoms may be weak or paralyzed. It could be 2-24 hours before they get back to normal.

Non-motor symptoms. They can affect just about everything else. Some things that may happen to your child:

  • Feel things like tingling or pins and needles that may start in one part of the body and spread from there
  • Voices may sound muffled
  • See or hear things that aren't there, like flashing lights or ringing noises
  • See things as larger or smaller than they actually are
  • Smell or taste things that aren't there and are usually unpleasant

Some symptoms may affect basic ways that their body works, such as:

Other symptoms your child may get are:

  • Feeling of being outside the body
  • Sense of déjà vu (feel like you've been here before)
  • Problems talking (words may come out jumbled)
  • Sudden swings in emotions, like fear, anger, or happiness
  • Time seems to slow down or speed up


A focal onset impaired awareness seizure is a second major type of focal onset seizure. Doctors used to call it a complex partial seizure.

Your child won't respond to you or know that a seizure is happening. Some kids will look like they're daydreaming or staring off into space.

You may notice a range of repetitive actions or behavior, such as:

  • Bicycling or kicking movements
  • Blinking
  • Chewing, gulping, lip smacking, swallowing, or sucking motions
  • Flailing arms
  • Grabbing at the air like something is there
  • Picking at clothing
  • Running, jumping, and spinning
  • Wandering around the room

Your child may also have changes in skin coloring, have a quicker heartbeat or breathing than normal, or throw up or dry heave.

Afterward, your child won't remember it and may feel sleepy.

An aura can be a warning sign that a seizure is on the way. About 1 in 3 kids get them, typically before a focal onset impaired awareness seizure.

An aura can happen in a number of ways, such as:

  • Changes in vision, hearing, smell, or taste
  • Feeling afraid
  • Sense of déjà vu
  • Feeling that something terrible is about to happen
  • Feeling super excited and happy
  • Dizziness or stomach upset
  • A racing heart