Research Article| Volume 142, 109143, May 2023

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Sense of control, selective attention, cognitive inhibition, and psychosocial outcomes after Retraining and Control Therapy (ReACT) in pediatric functional seizures


      • ReACT improves sense of control, cognitive inhibition, selective attention, and somatic symptoms.
      • Sense of control is a possible mechanism by which ReACT improves pediatric FS.
      • Improved QOL after ReACT may be mediated by improvements in FS.
      • There were no significant improvements in anxiety, depression, or social stress.
      • Outcomes support the benefit of targeting FS directly without relying on treatment of mood.



      Differences in sense of control, cognitive inhibition, and selective attention in pediatric functional seizures (FS) versus matched controls implicate these as potential novel treatment targets. Retraining and Control Therapy (ReACT), which targets these factors, has been shown in a randomized controlled trial to be effective in improving pediatric FS with 82% of patients having complete symptom remission at 60 days following treatment. However, post-intervention data on sense of control, cognitive inhibition, and selective attention are not yet available. In this study, we assess changes in these and other psychosocial factors after ReACT.


      Children with FS (N = 14, Mage = 15.00, 64.3% female, 64.3% White) completed 8 weeks of ReACT and reported FS frequency at pre and post-1 (7 days before and after ReACT). At pre, post-1, and post-2 (60 days after ReACT), all 14 children completed the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory Generic Core Scales, Behavior Assessment System (BASC2), and Children’s Somatic Symptoms Inventory-24 (CSSI-24), and 8 children completed a modified Stroop task with seizure symptoms condition in which participants are presented with a word and respond to the ink color (e.g., “unconscious” in red) to assess selective attention and cognitive inhibition. At pre and post-1, ten children completed the magic and turbulence task (MAT) which assesses sense of control via 3 conditions (magic, lag, turbulence). In this computer-based task, participants attempt to catch falling X’s while avoiding falling O’s while their control over the task is manipulated in different ways. ANCOVAs controlling for change in FS from pre- to post-1 compared Stroop reaction time (RT) across all time points and MAT conditions between pre and post-1. Correlations assessed the relationships between changes in Stroop and MAT performance and change in FS from pre- to post-1. Paired samples t-tests assessed changes in quality of life (QOL), somatic symptoms, and mood pre to post-2.


      Awareness that control was manipulated in the turbulence condition of the MAT increased at post-1 vs. pre- (p = 0.02, η2 = 0.57). This change correlated with a reduction in FS frequency after ReACT (r = 0.84, p < 0.01). Reaction time significantly improved for the seizure symptoms Stroop condition at post-2 compared to pre- (p = 0.02, η2 = 0.50), while the congruent and incongruent conditions were not different across time points. Quality of life was significantly improved at post-2, but the improvement was not significant when controlling for change in FS. Somatic symptom measures were significantly lower at post-2 vs. pre (BASC2: t(12) = 2.25, p = 0.04; CSSI-24: t(11) = 4.17, p < 0.01). No differences were observed regarding mood.


      Sense of control improved after ReACT, and this improvement was proportional to a decrease in FS, suggesting this as a possible mechanism by which ReACT treats pediatric FS. Selective attention and cognitive inhibition were significantly increased 60 days after ReACT. The lack of improvement in QOL after controlling for change in FS suggests QOL changes may be mediated by decreases in FS. ReACT also improved general somatic symptoms independent of FS changes.


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      Linked Article

      • Towards more targeted treatments in functional seizures
        Epilepsy & BehaviorVol. 142
        • Preview
          Despite a proliferation in functional seizure (FS) studies over recent years, there remains no gold standard of treatment, and this is especially so for children [1]. The study that follows is important for two main reasons. First, it raises the possibility of a targeted intervention for FS that addresses specific neurophysiologic onset and maintenance factors. The second reason is that it suggests a delineation in the treatment of FS, whereby FS events are targeted independent of common psychiatric comorbidities such as anxiety and depression.
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