School life for children with epilepsy


Informing the teacher about epilepsyExpand Informing the teacher about epilepsy Section

It is very important for parents to inform their child’s teachers and principal, and other school officials about their child’s epilepsy. This will help to ensure that teachers and fellow students will be prepared to deal with a seizure, should one occur. The teacher’s attitude about epilepsy influences not only the child’s self-perception but also the attitude of his/her peers.

Parents should encourage teachers to discuss any of their concerns regarding the child’s disorder. It is especially important for parents to speak to the child’s physical education teacher and express any limitations they feel their child may have. Safety is always the priority, but all children must have some involvement in physical education for normal development.

It is very important for teachers to recognize seizures and know the proper first aid treatment for any child who experiences a seizure. The manner in which seizure are handled should be consistent at home and school. Teachers should contact parents for information as well, and keep parents informed about their child’s condition.

When teachers and the school are prepared to deal with seizures, classroom disruption will be minimal and less attention will be brought onto the child with epilepsy.

The parent-teacher partnershipExpand The parent-teacher partnership Section

It is important for teachers to know if a student has epilepsy. Teachers should have a basic understanding of epilepsy, how to manage epilepsy, its effects on the child’s emotional, social and physical development, and its effects on learning. If teachers can understand the stresses, which are placed on the child with epilepsy and his/her family, they may be able to better understand how epilepsy affects the student’s learning, social skills, emotional development, etc.

Parents are the best source of information regarding their child’s epilepsy and how their child copes with it. Teachers should encourage the parents of the child with epilepsy to provide as much information as they can. This will help the teacher have greater insight into dealing with the child with epilepsy. Unfortunately, some parents feel that teachers will be insensitive when dealing with their child’s condition or that, discovering their child has a condition such as epilepsy, other students will tease their child. This can be very detrimental.


Teachers should reassure parents regarding any concerns they raise and discuss how confidential information will be safeguarded. Parents and teachers should come to an agreement regarding what and how much information will be relayed to other teachers and their child’s classmates. The parents may need time to open up. This is understandable as parents are very protective of their children and their children’s rights.

When teachers have a student with epilepsy in their classroom, they should contact the child’s parents before doing a class presentation on epilepsy. Parents should be informed about what the teacher intends to cover and parents should be encouraged to discuss any concerns that they might have. Teachers should also consider including the child with epilepsy in the planning or presentation if the student and his/her parents agree.

If the child does not want to reveal epilepsy, those wishes must be respected. The teacher may want to introduce the topic of epilepsy to the class without referring to the child with epilepsy, as a general discussion of chronic health problems.

Informing the class about epilepsyExpand Informing the class about epilepsy Section

If there is a student with epilepsy in the class, the teacher should introduce the students to epilepsy and discuss it. It may not be necessary to refer to the actual child in your class who has epilepsy. This decision should be made in consultation with the parents and the child.

If the child denies having seizures or gets upset, the teacher should respond with understanding of the child’s feelings. If it seems difficult to continue a discussion with the child, the subject should be left for a while. The teacher can bring it up later or wait until the child raises the subject.

Teachers play a central role in the acceptance and self-development of the child who has seizures. When teaching your class about epilepsy, keep the following points in mind.

  • Emphasize that epilepsy is not a disease.
  • Explain that epilepsy is not contagious.
  • Avoid using the word “epileptic.” Instead, use the term “child with epilepsy.”
  • Avoid using “Grand mal” and “Petit mal” to describe seizures, as these terms are outdated. Instead use “tonic clonic” and “absence.”
  • Avoid using the word “fit to describe a seizure.
  • Keep in mind that the emotional and educational needs of a child with epilepsy are essentially the same as for other children.

Expand Primary classes SectionPrimary classes

Teachers should make their discussions about epilepsy very basic. They should start by discussing how people are all alike or different and get the class to create lists of these similarities and differences. Then, they can introduce epilepsy and explain how it is one of the ways that people are different.

Teachers should explain what a seizure is, what it looks like and how to help someone having a seizure. Using a simple picture of the head and brain may be helpful. It is also important for teachers to discuss the emotional effects of having epilepsy and the importance of not making fun of people who are different.

Expand Junior/Intermediate classes SectionJunior/Intermediate classes

Teachers may start a discussion by asking their class what they already know about epilepsy. Then the class should be provided with a clear definition of what epilepsy is, using pictures of the head and brain. In the discussion, teachers should be sure to include the different types of seizures, what the different types of seizures look like, and how to provide first aid to someone having a seizure. Finally, teachers should address the emotional effects of having epilepsy (the importance of peoples’ feelings, self-esteem issues).

Expand General guidelines for educating students about epilepsy SectionGeneral guidelines for educating students about epilepsy

How to explain epilepsy to students depends on their age and level of understanding. Teachers should consider the following suggestions about educating their students about epilepsy. These points can be simplified or expanded on as necessary.

  • Seizures are the result of the brain sending mixed up messages to the body.
  • Seizures last only a few seconds or minutes and when they are over, the brain and body work properly again.
  • Except for the short time while the child is having a seizure, children with epilepsy are just like everyone else.
  • Epilepsy is not a disease and it is not contagious like chicken pox or a cold.
  • Children with epilepsy take medication to prevent seizures but sometimes seizures happen anyway.
  • Seizures usually stop by themselves, but everyone needs to know first aid so that they can help protect their friend who is having a seizure so that s/he doesn’t get hurt.
  • We all have unique and different features, and we should accept them all.

Notes for teachersExpand Notes for teachers Section

  • Maximize the amount of instruction time that the student with epilepsy receives by keeping the child in the classroom if possible. (The child may be able to just listen for awhile or participate in easier tasks.)
  • Try to make the child’s experience as “normal” as possible.
  • The range of intelligence is the same for children with or without epilepsy.
  • Children don’t require special education simply because they have epilepsy. Some children with epilepsy may require special education just as some children without epilepsy may require special education.
  • Some neurological disorders that cause epilepsy may also cause learning difficulties.
  • Often when a child with epilepsy is not experiencing a seizure, there is still some seizure activity going on in segments of the brain, which can alter the child’s thought processes or alter the child’s mood. These fluctuations in brain function can’t always be controlled with treatment.
  • Side effects of the child’s anti-epileptic medications may affect brain functions leading to lack of concentration, mood changes, drowsiness or hyperactivity.
  • The type of seizure a child has can affect the child’s memory or the way patterns, shapes, numbers or letters are perceived.
  • The number of seizures that a child has can influence the learning process by causing him/her to miss parts of the lesson.

How teachers make a difference

Young people with serious health conditions are significantly at risk for psychosocial adjustment problems when compared with their “healthy” peers. Doctors can help bring the child’s seizures under control, but it is the child’s teachers who can help bring the child’s life under control.

Teachers are in a position to influence the attitudes of future generations. How teachers relate to the child with epilepsy can impact on how the child with epilepsy and his/her classmates feel about epilepsy for the rest of their lives.

Teachers can be very effective in averting any permanent, negative reactions on the part of the other students by displaying calm and open attitudes and behaviour. Teachers must ensure the child with epilepsy feels accepted.

Other children may react by feeling fearful, upset or confused after witnessing a seizure or learning that a classmate has a seizure disorder. These negative feelings may cause the child with epilepsy to be teased or ostracized, and can end up doing more harm than the epilepsy itself. Teachers can help prepare the class regarding what to expect and how to deal with a seizure. This will help the class become less unsettled and more supportive of the child with the epilepsy when s/he experiences a seizure at school.

Working in partnership with your local schoolExpand Working in partnership with your local school Section

It is important for parents to work in partnership with the local school to ensure the best possible education for their child. This is particularly true when seizures are not well controlled. Both the parents and the school need to contribute to the partnership.

The school setting is perhaps second only to the family in being an influential social institution for children and youth. School interactions affects the self, play a role in academic achievement and have an enduring impact on later years.

The Undiagnosed Child with Epilepsy

There are some special considerations for teachers who think that they may have a child with undiagnosed epilepsy in their class. The following suggestions may help teachers raise their concerns to parents.

  • Record observations of the child’s behaviour, noting what the behaviour looks like, which parts of the body are involved, the time of day at which the behaviour occurs, the duration of the symptoms, and in what activities the child was engaged before and after the behaviour.
  • Verify your observations with the school nurse, other teachers who teach that child, a school counsellor or the principal.
  • Do not make a diagnosis when reporting your observations to parents. Instead be explicit, discuss any of the parents’ concerns, recommend that the child see a physician, and offer to report your observations to the physician if necessary.
  • Be sure to comply with your school’s policy on reporting your observations to parents.

Taking Medications at School

Some children are required to take medication during school hours. If this is the case, the parents may have to fill out forms giving the school permission to administer the medication to the child. The parents may also be required to provide a letter from their physician. The medication should be stored in a locked area (in the school office) and provided to the child by a secretary, teacher or principal (according to school policy).

Peer Interactions

While at school, learning does not simply involve instruction from the teacher. Children learn a great deal by interacting with one another. Children learn many important social skills including how to form friendships, how to communicate, how to problem solve, how to listen and how to share.

Negative experiences encountered in school can have long lasting implications on future social relationships and situations. When classmates tease the child with epilepsy, s/he may feel isolated from others. A major problem that children with epilepsy encounter is a lack of acceptance by their peers.

“Fitting in” is extremely important for children at school. When the teacher understands a child and his/her seizures, the teacher can advocate for the child’s inclusion in many extra-curricular activities that will help the child to fit in.

The teacher can play an instrumental role in educating the other students about epilepsy and influencing the way in which other students interact with the child who has epilepsy.

Physical Activity

Physical exercise is necessary for all children. All physical activities pose some risk whether or not a child has epilepsy. For children with epilepsy, however, physical activity may involve some additional risks. The risks of any activity should be weighed against the benefits to the child. Whenever possible, students who experience seizures are encouraged to participate in a full range of physical activities.

Children with seizures that are not well controlled should participate cautiously in activities in which having a seizure would put them or someone else in danger. When deciding on the child’s limitations, consider the seizure type, severity, frequency and doctor’s advice.

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