Experiences with epilepsy inspire student to educate teachers about the condition

May 3, 2024

By Deron Hamel

Matthew Farrish says he hopes to one day help students and their teachers better understand epilepsy and the challenges children living with seizure disorders face at school.

Matthew Farrish, pictured above, was one of six students to receive an Epilepsy Ontario scholarship in 2023.

Having lived with epilepsy since age 2, Matthew, who grew up in Thunder Bay, knows first-hand about this.

“While attending school in northern Ontario, I noticed that some teachers don’t always understand how having epilepsy can really challenge students,” he says.

“It’s often an invisible disability, and it’s been hard for me to advocate for my needs when some people don’t really consider the difference between equity and equality.”

By the time he reached high school, Matthew says he realized epilepsy “impacts all aspects of your life,” especially a person’s ability to learn, concentrate and remember.

Matthew says concentrating on his schoolwork, volunteering and making music has helped him through the challenges epilepsy presents.

But, he adds, he has always seen a need for greater individualized support from schools to help students living with epilepsy.

“Students with epilepsy need extra supports, specific to them, to maximize their learning,” he says.

“After explaining my difficulties to my teachers, they were often surprised. For this reason, I would like to help children and teachers learn more about epilepsy.”

Matthew is taking the first steps towards this goal. He is in his first year at Lakehead University, studying education and sociology.

He says his challenges with epilepsy, his understanding of the need for better epilepsy education in schools and the enjoyment he garnered as a volunteer hockey coach have inspired him to pursue a teaching career.

“I feel like (epilepsy) is a misunderstood disorder, even though it’s experienced by many people,” he says.

“Because I’ll be studying to be a teacher, I’m hoping to make changes within the education system to support students with epilepsy.”

Matthew is one of six recipients of Epilepsy Ontario’s 2023 annual scholarship. For more than 15 years, Epilepsy Ontario has been providing scholarships to exceptional students who have confronted and overcome remarkable barriers in their academic and personal lives due to their epilepsy.

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