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teaching children with epilepsy

Information to help teachers who have a child with epilepsy in their class. Find out about adjustments you may need to make, how their epilepsy might affect their learning and what you may need to do if they have a seizure.

Because epilepsy varies so much from person to person, it can be helpful to find out as much as possible about a child's epilepsy to avoid making assumptions about how their condition might affect their learning.

If parents feel supported by the school, they may be more likely to give information about their child's epilepsy.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act  ims to protect people against discrimination. Epilepsy is a condition that is covered by the Equality Act, even if a person’s seizures are controlled with medication.

This means it is against the law for education and training providers to discriminate against people with epilepsy. This includes nurseries and playgroups, primary and secondary schools, and further and higher education.

The Equality Act covers extra curricular activities. It also covers how the curriculum is delivered and so methods of teaching need to treat all pupils fairly and not put any pupils with epilepsy at a disadvantage. However, the Equality Act does not cover the content of the curriculum.

Computers and lights

For most people with epilepsy, using a computer will not trigger a seizure. Up to 5% of people with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy, where seizures are triggered by flashing or flickering lights or by geometric patterns such as checks or stripes.

Computers and TVs with a flat screen do not flicker and so are less likely to trigger seizures than screens that flicker. However, fast-moving or flashing images on the screen could be a trigger. Other photosensitive triggers include flickering overhead lights and sunlight creating patterns through blinds.  

Exams and tests

Whether a child's epilepsy affects their ability to do exams or tests depends on their individual epilepsy. If they are likely to have seizures in stressful situations or at certain times of the day, this may affect their performance in exams or tests. Tiredness, or memory or concentration problems may also affect exams. Discussing concerns with the child and their parents may help to decide whether they need any special arrangements for exams.   

Practical activities and lessons

Safety is important for all children, especially during practical activities and lessons, such as science or PE. Epilepsy does not need to stop a child from doing an activity, as long as they are safe. Those responsible for their care need to know how their epilepsy affects them and what to do if a seizure happens. This also applies to extra curricular activities.

If a child has seizures, you can discuss any concerns about activities with them and their parents. Doing a risk assessment is also important. Useful questions to ask include the following.

  • What are the risks to safety for any child involved in this activity?
  • What happens to the child during their seizures?
  • Do they have a warning (know that a seizure is going to happen)?
  • What would help make the activity safer for them?

Swimming

It is essential that the swimming teacher and lifeguards fully understand a child's epilepsy so they can quickly see if the child is having a seizure in the water.

Some schools use a ‘buddy system’ which pairs up pupils so that everyone has someone to look out for them in the water. This may help a child feel they are being treated the same as the other children, as well as increasing everyone’s safety in the water.    

See more about water sports and epilepsy.

Medication at school

Most children with epilepsy take anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) to prevent seizures. AEDs are usually taken once a day, or twice a day with a 12 hour interval, which usually means this happens outside school hours.

If a child needs to take AEDs at school, having their own health care plan means that their medication can be managed and given effectively. This plan needs to be arranged by the school and agreed with the school's governing body and the child's family.

Sample health care plans and other forms relating to giving medication at school can be downloaded for free as part of the Department for Education (DfE) guidance on 'Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions' (September 2014).  

Status epilepticus or 'status'

If a seizure continues for more than 30 minutes (or one seizure follows another with no recovery in between) this is known as status epilepticus or 'status'. Status during a tonic clonic (convulsive) seizure is a medical emergency and needs urgent treatment.

Usually when someone has a convulsive (tonic clonic) there is no need to call an ambulance. However, always call 999 for an ambulance if:

  • the seizure lasts two minutes longer than usual; or
  • the seizure lasts for five minutes and you do not know how long their seizures usually last.

Children who have gone into status before may be prescribed emergency medication to help stop prolonged or repeated seizures.
There are two emergency medications used to treat status. Both these drugs are sedatives, which have a calming effect on the brain. Although it is rare, they can cause breathing difficulties so a child must be closely watched until they have fully recovered.

  • Rectal diazepam - given rectally (into the bottom)
  • Buccal midazolam - given into the buccal cavity (side of the mouth between the cheek and gum). 

If a child has emergency medication there should be a care plan (protocol) in place for giving them emergency medication at school.

Anyone giving these drugs needs specialist training to learn how to do this. Training is available from Epilepsy Society, or it may be arranged by the local authority or the child's medical professionals.

How will other pupils feel about epilepsy?

Generally, people feel more confident about epilepsy when they understand it and know what to do if someone has a seizure. Learning about epilepsy in the classroom can be good way to introduce information about the condition, without any children with epilepsy feeling that they are singled out. 

Taken from our Children leaflet. Order this leaflet from our online shop as part of our 'first five free' offer.