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School and Epilepsy

Be Involved in Your Child's School Experience Learning

Children with epilepsy have the same range of intelligence as other children and often epilepsy itself has no effect on intelligence or ability.

Children with epilepsy do, however, have a higher rate of learning problems and difficulty in school than those without the condition. This may be influenced by many factors including the side effects of medication, the child’s anxiety, the teacher’s attitude, the underlying neurological cause of the epilepsy, and/or the seizures themselves.

Seizure medication can affect learning. Some medications have side effects that result in hyperactivity or interfere with concentration or memory

The unpredictability of seizures could result in anxiety and insecurity in children. This may affect initiative and independence in the classroom.

Teachers’ attitudes
While effective teachers may employ strategies to accommodate and encourage your child in the classroom, there are occasionally teachers who assume that a child with epilepsy has a lower potential than other students. As a result, the teacher may influence the child’s academic development because of reduced expectations.

Neurological causes
In some cases, the underlying neurologic problem causing epilepsy may also result in learning    problems. For example, if the condition results in problems in the association areas of the brain,   letter recognition or the recollection of word meaning could be affected resulting in poor school performance.

Seizures may affect learning. For example, children experiencing absence seizures throughout the day will have their learning experience continually disrupted. Memory can also be affected following complex partial seizures or tonic clonic seizures. This could result in learning challenges.

Communicating with Teachers and Staff

Each year meet with your child’s teachers. Discuss the academic and social impact that epilepsy may have on your child and inform the teachers on how to help your child should he or she have a seizure. Assure that the school has a medical record on file with important information regarding doctors, medications, seizure descriptions, allergies, other medical conditions, and first aid instructions.

Social Interaction

Sometimes children face ridicule, teasing, or prejudice from schoolmates. Peers may not understand the condition and children can sometimes be unkind. If your child is having this experience, then discuss his or her concerns and talk about options on how your child could cope with the reactions of others.

Helping Others to Understand

Consider arranging an in-service to your local school through your epilepsy association. This will provide staff and students with information regarding the condition. Many epilepsy associations have trained staff members who will visit schools and talk about epilepsy in order to educate others.

Some epilepsy associations offer an educational puppet program called Kids on the Block (KOB). KOB uses life-sized colorful puppets to teach the students and staff about epilepsy. A puppet troupe may be available to visit your child’s school and present an entertaining production.

School Act

Find out about the education policies in your area in order to find the best school placement for your child.  For example, in Alberta, the School Act requires school boards to provide an education for every individual who on September 1st of a year is six years of age or older and is younger than 19 years of age. In many cases, a regular classroom is considered the appropriate placement for a child with special needs because of the increased opportunities to participate with peers of the same age. In cases where a student has complex or severe learning and/or behavioral needs, other placements may be considered.

Under the Act in Alberta, a student is entitled to have access to a special education program if it is considered necessary.

In finding the best placement, parents should consider what environment best meets the overall educational needs of their child as well as what is best for all of the students in the classroom and the school.

If a parent disagrees with a decision by school staff or the local school board on issues such as identification, evaluation, placement, or programs, a dispute resolution process and formal appeal procedure are in place in Alberta. For information regarding children with special needs, contact your local epilepsy association or in Alberta, the Special Education Branch, Alberta Learning.                                                                                     

Your Expectations

If your child does experience learning setbacks or problems, try not to allow your expectations to create stress or feelings of failure in your child. Your child’s self-esteem and motivation could be negatively affected by unrealistic expectations. Try to focus on your child’s potential rather than on his or her limitations.  

Allow Participation in Sports and Activities

Children with epilepsy should be encouraged to participate in social and recreational activities and sports. Socializing with other children builds self-esteem. Recreational activities and sports enhance well being and maintain health. There is some evidence that regular exercise may improve seizure control.

When deciding which recreational activities and sports are appropriate for your child, parents may want to match activities with their child’s degree of seizure control.

Tennis, basketball, volleyball, track and field, baseball, jogging, hiking, golfing and cross-country skiing are just a few of the activities for children with epilepsy to enjoy. Summer day camps or overnight camps may offer your child the opportunity to develop confidence and self-esteem.

Some forms of recreation require extra caution. For instance, if a child has uncontrolled seizures, swimming is not advisable without constant supervision. Swimming with a companion, preferably an experienced swimmer, is recommended for anyone who has seizures. Swimming in a pool is safer than swimming in open water.

Some sports or recreational activities pose risks for those with epilepsy and participation should be dependent on a doctor’s recommendation.

Sports that involve body contact such as hockey, soccer, and football or impact sports such as boxing and karate pose extra risks due to the potential for head injury. Bicycling and horse back riding could pose risks. Some activities such as scuba diving, rock climbing, and parachuting are not advised for people with epilepsy as they are considered to be too dangerous.  Use of appropriate safety gear (e.g. helmets, flotation devices, etc.) and avoidance of related problems such as low blood sugar, dehydration, or overexertion which could increase the risk of seizures, are also important.

Lifeguards, coaches, counselors, etc. should be informed about your child’s condition, seizure medications, and how to respond should a seizure occur.


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