Teachers Advice

  • 1 in 20 people have a seizure at some time in their lives
  • more than 1:130 have epilepsy making it the most common serious neurological condition in the U.K. 
  • There are over 20,000 people in Wales who have epilepsy
  • Approximately 80 people every day in the U.K. are diagnosed as having epilepsy
  • A seizure is caused by abnormal chemical activity of the brain cells

The vast majority of children and young people with epilepsy will be educated in mainstream schools.

Parents will not always inform the school, or may not even know themselves – sometimes the teacher may be the first person to realise that a child has epilepsy. 

All staff, both teaching and non teaching, should either know what to do if a seizure occurs or whom to call for help

WHAT IS EPILEPSY?

Epilepsy is a tendency to have recurring fits or seizures, which are the same thing, a brief, usually unprovoked disturbance of consciousness; behaviour, perception, motor function or sensation.  It happens because of a chemical imbalance within the brain, which leads to the brain’s electrical messages becoming disorganised.  This imbalance can occur in any part of the brain or in all of the brain at once.

HOW DOES IT AFFECT A CHILD?

Epilepsy causes the child to have seizures.  There may be other effects from the seizures or side effects of medication but with sensible management at home and school, other effects can be minimised.  If a seizure occurs, the teacher’s calm reaction will largely determine the attitude of the class.  Knowing how to cope with seizures eliminates fear and embarrassment. The type, number and severity of seizures vary with individual children.

MEDICATION

Tablets, capsules or syrup is prescribed to build up chemically the resistance to stimuli that can trigger or precipitate a seizure.

It is essential that the dose is taken as prescribed by the doctor.

If seizures increase, or the child appears drowsy, inattentive, or is over-active, discuss the matter with the parents and the school health team.

CAN EPILEPSY AFFECT LEARNING OR BEHAVIOUR?

Some children do have problems while others don’t. It may not be the epilepsy itself but the underlying cause(s) of the disorder may have this effect in some cases. Side effects to some medication can also have an effect.

Other factors that can have an effect on the development of children are over-protection, over-expectation, rejection and misunderstanding.

Common difficulties include concentration problems, memory difficulties and tiredness. It is important that teaching staff recognise different seizure types and understand the impact that epilepsy and medication side effects may have on an individual child without attributing all problems to their epilepsy, in or out of school. Particular note should be taken of fluctuation or deterioration in performance or behaviour. This information needs to be shared with parents and the school multi-disciplinary team.  Classroom discipline should not be lessened through any fear of precipitating a seizure.

FIRST AID

The reaction and competence of the teacher is the most important factor in any classroom acceptance of a seizure.  In a non-convulsive seizure, understanding and a matter-of-fact approach are really all that is needed.  In a tonic-clonic seizure (see our General Information leaflet or on this website click General Information), classmates will respond to the calm behaviour of the teacher.

SCHOOL ACTIVITIES

Decisions should be taken after discussion with parents and medical advisors, but any restriction on the child with epilepsy will serve to make the child feel, and appear, different.  Although it may be unwise to allow a child to climb ropes or wall bars if there is a history of frequent, unpredictable seizures, with adequate supervision few activities should be barred.  Swimming should cause no problems and should be encouraged, provided there is someone in the water to affect immediate rescue should it be necessary.  Flickering and flashing lights can trigger some seizure in children with photosensitivity. This accounts for only a small proportion of children with epilepsy (See our leaflet on Photosensitivity or on this website select Photosensitivity.)

CAREERS

Teachers giving careers advice need to know about the type and frequency of the young person’s seizures.  Most careers are open, with the necessary qualifications and training, but the armed forces and merchant navy are unlikely to accept anyone with a history of seizures. There may be limitations in some other careers where epilepsy may present health or safety issues.

HOW TEACHERS CAN HELP?

Avoid ever using the label “an epileptic”.  Seizures are epileptic, children are not.  The label obscures the child’s individuality. Treat the child with epilepsy in the same way as you would other children in the class.  Classroom discipline should not ever be lessened for fear of inducing a seizure.

Many children under achieve because their intellectual ability is underestimated and they are given insufficient challenges.  Progress can be made, given extra time and support. Boredom can trigger seizures.  Children with epilepsy need a full timetable.  Don’t allow them to play on their epilepsy.

 Keep restrictions to a minimum. Emphasis should be on what the child can do.  Seek medical advice about appropriate activities for each child with epilepsy.

Explain epilepsy to the child and the class.  Then all pupils will learn to understand and accept the conditions sensibly.

Be cautious about reprimanding a child for daydreaming.  Their concentration may be fragmented.

MedicAlert produces medical jewellery including bracelets and necklets (emblems). By joining this scheme your medical details are kept on a database. Each emblem has the symbol of the snake and staff, and, engraved on the reverse, your medical condition, the telephone number for MedicAlert and your own personal identification number. This means that if you have an accident or a seizure someone can clearly see that you have epilepsy. Also, medical personnel, such as accident and emergency doctors, can call the emergency number if they need more details about you or your medical condition, your address, your next of kin or your doctor’s details. To find out more, visit the MedicAlert website.

Next of Kin and Medical Response Epilepsy ID Tags

Epilepsy ID tags combine a ‘dog-tag’ style medical tag necklace, ‘lifeline’ key ring tag and credit card size membership card. The dog tag necklace has the Medical Response logo and the snake and staff symbol on the front, and your details can be engraved on the back. The key ring has the number for Medical Response and individual ID number so that emergency services can find out the details of your next of kin. The membership card also contains your name and medical notes. To find out more, visit the Medical Response website.

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