Epilepsy and learning: The important role teachers play


Our Youth Development Worker, Kirstyn Cameron looks at the important role teachers play in helping each child with epilepsy lead as fulfilling life as possible.

For many children, their epilepsy will not affect their behaviour or learning ability.

Yet, we know children with epilepsy do underperform at school and achieve less than would be expected.

There are many reasons for this. Epilepsy can have a long-term negative effect and some children will have very low self-esteem and self-confidence.

Others may have missed educational opportunities. Also, teenagers and young adults often feel socially isolated from their friends.

The way teachers react and how readily they accept the child and their condition can make a huge difference.

Teachers play an important part in helping each child with epilepsy lead as fulfilling life as possible.


Effects on learning

Epilepsy has had a long history of stigma mainly due to ignorance.

Even now, you will still come across children and parents who are reluctant to talk about having epilepsy.

Teachers can help by trying to make the child’s experience at school as ‘normal’ as possible.

They shouldn’t be too protective or put unreasonable restrictions on a child’s activities. This is particularly important in the child’s early years.

Teachers support will help the child’s emotional development. Also, teachers are in a good position to spot, record and discreetly monitor the child’s seizures.

They can also be the first to notice when this seizure pattern changes. Or you may see changes in a child’s behaviour, ability or achievement.

This will be important information when talking to parents and other support agencies.


Epilepsy policy at school

Schools should have an epilepsy policy in place to ensure that children affected by epilepsy are given an equal chance to learn.

The policy should also summarise what the school will do to help and support a child affected by seizures.

It should also outline what the school will do to support learning for a child who misses class frequently or for longer periods due to their epilepsy.

Irregular attendance or frequent seizures can affect a child’s learning and exam results.

Special assessment arrangements for exams will take a child’s epilepsy into account.

Schools need to request special assessment arrangements by contacting The Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA).



Day to day support

If you know a child has frequent absence seizures, there are several ways you can help.

For example, you can repeat instructions several times including instructions for homework.

The school may also consider setting up a buddy system. A buddy can supply information the child missed, and help in school and also with homework.

A child who has sleep seizures can feel tired in the morning. Therefore, it may be more difficult for a child to concentrate and take in information early in the day.

As with absence seizures, you can support the child by giving instructions more than once or consider a buddy system in the class.

To help concentration in general, give the child a choice to sit near the front. Use as many physical prompts as possible, such as pointing to a page, or writing on the whiteboard.

This will help the child stay focussed during the day.


Dignity and privacy

A child with tonic-clonic or absence seizures can lose control of their bladder or bowels.

This can be very embarrassing for the child, and they may wear a nappy or pads.

Teachers can agree with the child a discreet sign when the nappy or pad needs to be changed.

Some children can have a feeling of unease, fear or panic for a few hours before a seizure.

Sitting in a classroom with these emotions can be distressing for a child. They will worry about having a seizure in front of everyone.

Teachers can agree a signal with the child that tells them when they would like to be taken to a quiet space.

Make sure an adult stays with the child until these feelings pass or until the seizure has happened.

Our teachers guide provides basic information about epilepsy. It will also help you understand the condition, how to recognise seizures and how to deal with them.

You can download our teachers guide by clicking here or for a hard copy, please email contact@epilepsyscotland.org.uk.