A teacher helping a boy learn.

#EpilepsyMatters: How teachers can support children with epilepsy

As a teacher you could be the first adult to see a child having an epileptic seizure. Or a parent may tell you that their child has epilepsy.

For many children, their epilepsy will not affect their behaviour or learning ability. Yet, we know children with epilepsy do often underperform at school and achieve less than expected.

There are many reasons for this. Epilepsy can for example have a long-term negative effect on a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

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

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

In this blog, we look at the effects epilepsy can have on a child’s learning and what teachers and schools can do to help negate these.


Epilepsy effects on learning

Teachers can help make a child’s experience at school as ‘normal’ as possible.

Don’t be too protective or put unreasonable restrictions on a child’s activities.

This is particularly important in the child’s early years. Your support will help the child’s emotional development.

Teachers are also in a good position to spot, record and discreetly monitor a child’s seizures.

You 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

Your school should have an epilepsy policy to ensure that children affected by epilepsy are given an equal chance to learn.

This 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 because of their epilepsy.


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.

Your 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 with sleep seizures can feel tired in the morning. It can be 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.

Use as many physical prompts as possible, such as pointing to a page, or writing on the whiteboard. This will help the child stay focused 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. You can agree with the child to come up with a discreet sign when the nappy or pads needs to be changed.

Some children can have a feeling of unease, fear or panic for a few hours before a seizure. These feelings do, however, not always lead to 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.

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

This can make a child more relaxed. It can also give them a sense of control over their seizures.

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


Special assessment arrangements

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). There is comprehensive guidance on their website at www.sqa.org.uk.

Once you’ve contacted them, they will look at the child’s individual circumstances and make a decision.

More information for teachers on how to help support children living with epilepsy, can be found by clicking here.

If you need other help and support such as training or an assembly talk to pupils, feel free to get in touch with us on 0808 800 2200 or emailing us at contact@epilepsyscotland.org.uk