A Note to School Professionals

As an educator, you will most likely work with students who have epilepsy/seizure disorders at some point in your career. Statistically, 1 out of every 100 people will develop epilepsy at some point in their lives, and of the 200,000 new cases of epilepsy diagnosed every year, more than 45,000 are diagnosed in children 15 years old and younger.

Epilepsy is a medical condition that is unique from person to person. The experiences of people who have epilepsy, including children with epilepsy, run the gamut of seizure type, severity, frequency, and influence on various areas of their lives. Some children who have a diagnosis of epilepsy will gain complete seizure control quickly with one anti-seizure medication and not see any significant impact on their learning abilities, social skills, or day to day life, while others will have very frequent and very severe seizures that affect virtually everything they do. The majority of children with epilepsy will fall somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum of experience. Because of this wide variation in the impact of epilepsy in children’s lives, the EAWCP recommends finding out as much information as possible about each of your students who has epilepsy so that you will be assured of addressing any and all needs he or she may have in the most effective manner possible.

Educators often encounter several issues relating to working with students who have epilepsy, including seizure management and first aid, the student’s academic performance, and creating an inclusive, supportive environment within the classroom and the larger school community.

As a trusted adult in the school, you will help set the tone as to how the other students will react to the young person with epilepsy. The students will take their lead from you, and if you encourage a sense of acceptance, understanding, respect and compassion within the student body, you will also be encouraging the social adjustment of the child with epilepsy.

In order to make the other students in the school as accepting and supportive as possible, we encourage you to talk with them about epilepsy. By discussing some of the basic facts — what epilepsy is, what seizures look like, any appropriate first aid steps — and dispelling some of the common myths that surround seizures — it’s not contagious, the person can’t swallow their tongue during a seizure — the students will be better informed and better prepared in the event of witnessing a classmate’s seizure.

Even if you do not currently know of any students in your school who have a diagnosis of epilepsy, chances are that all of the students and staff in your school will know someone at some point in all of their lives who has a seizure disorder. By giving them information about epilepsy prior to their needing it, both young people and school staff will be better prepared for when they do need to know about seizures and how to help someone who has them.

The EAWCP sponsors Project School Alert, a free educational presentation program that seeks to educate both students and school staff about epilepsy. A trained speaker can visit your school and talk with students of any grade level to help them understand what epilepsy is and how they can help someone who has it. Please contact either our Pittsburgh office (1-800-361-5885) or our Harrisburg office (1-800-336-0301) to schedule a Project School Alert for your class.

In the meantime, here is some information to help you prepare to speak with your students about epilepsy.

  • Epilepsy is when someone has repeated seizures.
  • Different types of seizures include generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal; convulsive; falling down and shaking), complex partial (psychomotor; walking around like the person is half asleep, doing things he/she won’t remember later), and absence (petit mal; looks like the person is daydreaming).
  • You don’t need to be afraid of someone who has epilepsy because you can’t catch it from them.
  • Seizures are not generally harmful to the person who has them — while, in some rare instances, individuals may die as a result of having a seizure, the large majority of seizures will not result in any kind of lasting physical injury to the person with epilepsy.
  • Basic first aid steps for a generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure include moving objects away from the person, turning the person on his/her side, putting something soft (pillow, blanket, jacket) underneath the person’s head, and telling an adult what is going on.
  • Do not put anything in a person’s mouth while he/she is having a seizure.
  • A person having a seizure cannot swallow his/her tongue.
  • People who have epilepsy want to be treated just like everyone else.
  • One of the most important things you can do for someone who has epilepsy is to treat them just as you would treat someone who does not have epilepsy — with respect and compassion.