SickKids helping kids with epilepsy excel academically, socially

October 26, 2012

From making printing easier through the use of weighted, vibrating pens to helping creative thoughts flow with voice-to-text software, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is making “learning come to life” for children who have epilepsy and seizure disorders.

SickKids is grooming kids in grades one through 7 to excel at school, develop self-confidence and build resiliency through its Epilepsy Classroom, says Dr. Elizabeth Kerr, clinical neuropsychologist at SickKids and head of the Epilepsy Classroom.

Students of the Epilepsy Classroom celebrate Purple Day, an international grassroots effort dedicated to increasing awareness about epilepsy.

The classroom provides academic remediation and psychosocial intervention and encompasses a medical treatment program.

Most children who participate in the program have cognitive difficulties and/or psychosocial issues that are impacting their academic achievement.

“We always want kids to be more resilient, self-confident and more empowered,” Kerr says about the objectives of the Epilepsy Classroom.

“We expect to see academic gains.”

One of the keys to success is the way the information is taught, Kerr says. “We teach from where their skill level is at.”

The direct-instruction model encompasses reviewing previously taught information to ensure it is understood. SickKids also teaches self-regulation skills and utilizes modeled responses.

The Epilepsy Classroom makes going to school fun. Through primarily donations, children have access to technology like laptops, iPads, an interactive white board and a variety of supporting applications and software to help with printing, spelling, learning the alphabet and more.

“It helps engage their attention,” Kerr says. “We’re always trying to remain cutting-edge and service the kids to the best of our abilities.”

The Epilepsy Classroom is a Section 23 classroom within Ontario’s Ministry of Education and SickKids partners with the local school board to provide programming.

After the one-year program, children transition back into a traditional school setting with or without an educational assistant, or go into a home-schooling environment, depending on their own individual needs.

Beyond academics, the classroom aims to help kids better understand epilepsy, cope with peer pressure and be more resilient.  A multidisciplinary team, which includes a special education teacher, educational assistants, a development pediatrician, a neuropsychologist and a social worker, works to better understand the interplay between epilepsy and each student’s learning profile and social-emotional needs.

SickKids supports children’s social-emotional needs on an individual basis and through group sessions led by Kerr and a social worker on concepts including mindful thinking, optimism and brain behaviours.

An occupational therapist is also on hand to suggest physical tools that can help with a child’s learning inside the classroom and beyond.

SickKids utilizes a holistic approach. The approach centres around understanding each child as a whole and identifying how to best address their needs based on their strengths and challenges.

The Epilepsy Classroom was established in the early 1990s within the child development centre at SickKids. In 2005 when the child development centre moved to Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, SickKids retained the classroom under its neurology department. Since then, it has been offering a more “homogenous” classroom setting, which includes the full-year program, alternating years between younger and older grades.

For more information about the Epilepsy Classroom and to view the referral form, click this link.

Writer: Natalie Hamilton

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