Tips for teaching students with epilepsy

  • March 1, 2022
  • 5
In this article

You are in the middle of a class when a student begins behaving unusually. The child is staring blankly and moving their hands and mouth in a repetitive manner. These symptoms could mean they are having a focal onset seizure.

Teaching students with epilepsy is normally no different to teaching any other student. However, it is important for school staff to be aware of some of the possible issues that may arise if students at your school have seizures. Epilepsy is the most common neurological condition among children in the US, so there is a good chance that you will teach a student with this condition at some point. 

Here are some simple school and teaching strategies for epilepsy students.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a term used to describe a wide variety of brain disorders which cause people to have seizures. Seizures are when neurons in the brain fire in an unusual manner. The seizures can cause many different symptoms. They include tonic clonic seizures, where the child falls to the ground and convulses, through to brief absence seizures. This is where the child loses consciousness for a few seconds before carrying on what they were doing.

There are many different kinds of epilepsy and levels of severity. Many children with epilepsy are able to stay in control of their seizures using anti-epilepsy drugs (AEDs), yet sometimes they may have breakthrough seizures. Others may not be able to take AEDs, so they need to use other medical devices to manage their condition.  

Having epilepsy can cause a number of issues for children, including:

  • Absence from school due to seizures or medical appointments
  • Side effects of anti-epilepsy drugs - which can include drowsiness
  • Memory loss and concentration problems
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Social isolation due to stigma from other students
  • Acting out behaviors, hyperexcitability, or aggressiveness
  • Some children with epilepsy may have comorbidities, such as autism or learning difficulties

If one of your students has epilepsy it can be useful to develop a teaching plan on epilepsy.

Learn more: What causes epilepsy in children?

Considerations for teaching students with epilepsy

When a child with epilepsy starts at school, their parents or carers will likely get in contact with the school to discuss their condition. As the child’s teacher, you can play a big role in helping the student adjust and get the most from their time in education. The following points can help if you are teaching students with epilepsy.

Teaching plan on epilepsy

Students with epilepsy may need some adjustments for learning and examinations. By speaking with the student and their parents, you can implement small changes that can make a big difference:

  • Examinations: Sometimes the student may be tired because they've had seizures or are not sleeping properly. Being flexible with exam dates can help a lot. They can also benefit from having extra time during tests. Measuring for understanding rather than memory of facts is also beneficial.
  • In the classroom: Children with epilepsy may sometimes struggle to concentrate - either because of the effects of seizures or because of medication. Double check that they have understood what you are saying, use repetition when necessary, and provide lesson printouts that they can read again later.
  • Avoiding triggers: People with epilepsy can have seizure triggers, so being mindful of them can be a big help. Perhaps the best known are flashing lights (although this is actually relatively uncommon) - so try and avoid these in the classroom. Children often experience seizures when they are stressed, so it's useful to monitor how the student is coping with work.

First aid and seizure treatment plans at school

If a child in your class has epilepsy, it is valuable for them to have a seizure treatment plan worked out with the school nurse. It might include:

  • First aid: If a student has a seizure, you should 1) STAY with the student and begin timing the seizure, ensure they are 2) SAFE by moving sharp objects away from them, and move them on their 3) SIDE while keeping their airway clear. Do not put anything in their mouth.
  • Is it an emergency? Most seizures are short, but you should call 911 if the seizures last five minutes or more.

Social aspects of teaching students with epilepsy

An important aspect of teaching strategies for epilepsy students is the social side of school. Sadly, bullying remains common for students with epilepsy - over 40% report experiencing some kind of stigmatization.

  • Educating other children: It can be startling for children to see a classmate having a seizure. As their teacher, try to stay calm. It is helpful to provide age appropriate and fact based information so classmates understand what is going on.
  • Physical education: As long as the child’s doctor and carers approve, it is normally OK for children with epilepsy to partake in physical education - and it can be good for their self esteem. What’s more, being active may in fact reduce frequency of seizures.
  • Self-esteem and mood: Having epilepsy may affect a child’s self-esteem. It is not uncommon for them to experience depression and anxiety too. Teachers should be sensitive to these feelings and watch out for them. Praising them for achievements can be very helpful.

Related: Tips for caring for a child with epilepsy

Teaching students with epilepsy

Teachers of children with epilepsy can have a significant impact on how that child develops. By taking some simple steps to accommodate their needs, learn about their condition and ensure other students understand what’s happening, you can really help children with epilepsy to shine. 

To learn more about epilepsy - and for lesson inspiration - read the Epsy blog to learn about different syndromes, treatment and fascinating facts about famous modern and historical people with the condition.

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