Epilepsy and Your Child's School
Epilepsy and Learning Disabilities
Statistically, children with epilepsy are more likely to have learning disabilities than other kids, according to Turk. But that doesn't mean that children with epilepsy are underachievers. Plenty of children with epilepsy are straight-A students. If your child is having problems in school, talk to your doctor about possible reasons. Among them:
- Sometimes, learning disabilities are directly related to the epilepsy. Whatever is causing seizures in the brain may also affect your child's ability to learn.
- Also, epilepsy medicines might cause side effects that can impair a child's ability to concentrate.
- Your child could have an unrelated learning disability, like any other child.
- Lastly, depression may be a serious and unrecognized issue for children with epilepsy. Depression is "definitely a problem for young adults with epilepsy, and I think for kids, too," Turk says. Kids with depression may have low energy, a limited attention span, and bad grades. Parents should not assume these symptoms are normal for children with epilepsy. Turk says that parents who notice their child is having problems in school should step in quickly. "Don't stick your head in the sand," he says. "You need to get it checked out. The learning disability may have little to do with the epilepsy itself. It may be something that can be corrected easily."
Fighting Epilepsy Stigma in Your Child's School
Coping with people at school who don't understand epilepsy is just one example of the stigma that you and your child may face at times.
"Some people don't understand epilepsy. They think it's a mental illness or a kind of retardation," Turk says. "That's obviously not true, but the reaction that children with epilepsy get to their condition can really shape their outcome."
"Even if your child is very smart, if his teacher treats him like he's stupid because he has epilepsy, that can become a self-fulfilling prophesy," says Turk.
It's important to fight these misunderstandings and prejudices when you encounter them. Explain that children with epilepsy are usually just as capable as other kids. You may meet people who call your child an "epileptic." Explain why the term isn't used anymore: A child with epilepsy isn't defined by this condition. Instead, epilepsy is usually a small part of his or her life.
No doubt you and your child will meet some people with outdated ideas about epilepsy. But take heart. Turk says the public's understanding of epilepsy is improving, largely thanks to parents who talk openly and honestly about the condition.
"I think it's very important for people with epilepsy not to hide it," says Turk. In the long run, every child with epilepsy will benefit from your openness.