In America, roughly 470,000 children under the age of 14 have epilepsy. That being said, teachers, school staff and personnel and school nurses play a vital role in the lives of children with epilepsy. In addition to ensuring a safe environment for students with epilepsy and knowing how to respond, teachers and even parents, also find themselves on the frontlines fighting pervasive stigma that often surrounds seizures. To be sure you or your child is safe in school, follow these recommendations.
Going to school can be stressful for children with epilepsy. They may worry about having a seizure in class, or perhaps how other students will react to their condition. Parents may also worry that their child's teacher may not know what to do when a child has a seizure, or that their child may be treated unfairly because of epilepsy.
The first thing to understand, is that because epilepsy is not an uncommon condition, this may not be the first time a certain teacher has had a student with epilepsy. While it would be ideal if every teacher, personnel, school nurse, and student was informed about epilepsy, unfortunately this isn't the case. Parents of children with epilepsy will probably have to take initiative and get involved in some situations to make sure their child's teachers or coaches are equipped with the knowledge and skills to ensure they have a judgement free and safe environment.
If you or your child is going to school and likely having a new set of teachers or coaches, be sure that each one is aware that you or your child has epilepsy, what their triggers are, what their signs of seizure look like, and after care as well as administering rescue medication. If you are comfortable, it may also help for your or your child's teacher to inform the class of epilepsy. This may reduce stigma among peers as well as keep you or your child safe. Your teacher does not have to disclose a name.
Dealing with others that don't know about epilepsy is part of the stigma a child or teen may have to deal with from time to time. The waves of emotions in which kids or teens often have, can be intimidating to approach. In most cases your tone, attitude, and intentions will make a big impact. Child and teen emotions often change by a consuming effect of the emotions of those around them. Emotions are infectious. It is smart to approach emotionally sensitive subjects with careful intent and calm approach.
Parents must maintain their perspective and must be sensitive to their child's insecurities, peer pressures, and need for support.
Communicate with your child about their social activity in and out of school. Make sure your child's mental health and influence is positive and safe.
Let your child or teen know they can feel comfortable talking to you. If parents become too judgmental too quickly, they will harm the trust and openness between them and their children.
Parents need to educate their children and let their feelings be known, but they should try to do it in a positive manner. Do not invalidate feelings.
If your child/teen engage in dangerous or irresponsible activities, parents should try to pause first instead of reacting in the midst of their own emotional storm. Teens often know when they have done something wrong and are embarrassed and frustrated by their actions.
To go through a list of common stigmas click here.
If you suspect your child is experiencing bullying at school, contact the highest authority within your child's school. It is best to stop bullying issues before they can develop into serious situations. Take initiative!
If you or your child need resources for support, consider joining our support group or social conversations. Click here!
Does your child have someone in their class with epilepsy? Do you teach a classroom that includes a student with epilepsy?
If so, children need answers. If epilepsy or another health problem affects your child or someone in their class, it is good to have conversation about it. (Be sure to ask consent of child and parent of child with epilepsy regarding name disclosure). If you keep the lines of communication open, you will minimize stigma and allow a better understanding.
Above all, be honest. Be informative and encouraging towards curiosity. Use language and explanations that are appropriate for their ages. Don't use complex medical terms that are hard for children to understand. You know your child/students best. Just speak to them in the same terms you would use to talk about other things.
Encourage your children to ask questions and have resources available to help them understand your answers. Children are curious by nature, so they will ask questions, but they will do it in their own time and in their own way. If your child or student asks something that you cannot answer, say that you will find the information as soon as you can. Then follow through. You may find the answer on this site, or you may need to talk to the doctor or nurse.
What your child needs to know, depends on the situation. Does the child have epilepsy, or someone else? What kinds of seizures are occurring? How severe and how frequent are they? Make sure that your child or student understands that not all seizures are like the ones on television, in which the person falls down and thrashes around (though in some cases that does happen). If your child has epilepsy, chances are good, though not certain, that the seizures can be mostly or completely stopped by medication and the epilepsy will be just a small part of his or her life.
The most important message for any child is that people with epilepsy are just like everyone else. They deserve respect and understanding, not teasing and cruelty.
If you are a member of a school staff, consider reaching out and asking about our first aid trainings. They are fit for school staff, teachers, after school care personnel, school nurses and even students. You can access our contact information at the bottom of any page.
It is important to know what kind of seizures you have and how often. People with well-controlled seizures don’t need to do anything special, but that does not mean it doesn't need to be spoken about. First and foremost, the school nurse should know about your seizures and what to do if one happens. However, take initiative to talk through what happens when you or your child have a seizure and what care works best. He/she can then make sure the teachers, coaches or other school personnel around you know what to do if a seizure occurs. But remember, take initiative and make sure that each staff member involved in you or your child's education is well informed, especially if seizures are frequent.
If you are still having seizures, talk to your child, teachers, coaches and school nurse before school starts or as soon as you can. Make sure you are involved in making plans for managing your seizures.
For example, are your seizures short and do you recover quickly? If so, you shouldn’t have to leave the classroom just because of a seizure. If you’re tired, confused or need some time to rest and get cleaned up after a seizure, then you’ll want to know where can you do this. Can you go to the nurse’s office or is there someplace else for you to recover?
Kids should not need to leave school just because they have a seizure. Sometimes, it makes sense to go home after a seizure if it takes too long for you to feel back to normal or you have trouble paying attention or participating in class after one. If this happens to you, talk to your parents and school nurse about when you should go home and when you should try and get back to class as soon as you can. Don’t let them send you home because someone is nervous about the seizures. Try not to let seizures (or other people) stand in your way!