Going to school can be stressful for children with epilepsy. They may worry about having a seizure in class or how other students will react. Parents are also anxious. They often worry that their child's teacher may not know how to handle an epileptic seizure, or that their child may be treated unfairly because of epilepsy.
In many cases, these fears turn out to be unfounded. Parents should know that epilepsy isn't that uncommon. There's a good chance that yours won't be the first child with epilepsy that the teacher has seen.
Here's a common scenario for the parent of a child with epilepsy: You find that your son has left his shoes in the middle of the living room floor for the umpteenth time, or that he still hasn't cleaned his room three weeks after you asked him, or that the garbage truck came and went this morning but he never dragged the cans to the curb.
So you decide it's time for a talk. But as you approach your son to lay down the law, you stop short. What if my yelling at him causes a seizure?
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But while it would be nice if every teacher, coach, nurse, and principal in the country was well-informed about epilepsy, unfortunately this isn't the case. Parents of children with epilepsy will probably have to get involved in some situations, and do some teaching themselves.
"Parents of children with epilepsy need to get educated about the condition," says William R. Turk, MD, Chief of the Neurology Division at the Nemours Children's' Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. "They need to learn the facts. By sharing these facts with other people -- and dispelling the fears -- parents can help shape a future for their child with fewer obstacles and limitations."
Take the Initiative With Your Child's School
The best way to prevent misunderstandings about epilepsy at school is to step in early. At the beginning of the year, go talk to your child's teacher and school nurse. Explain that your child has epilepsy. You may want to take some brochures about the condition. Getting the right information to the right people at school early can make a big difference in your child's school experience.
Turk offers this example: If your daughter has a seizure in class and the teacher isn't informed about epilepsy, the teacher will automatically call an ambulance. Not only is the ambulance unnecessary, but the frenzied emergency process may frighten your child and the other kids in class even more than the seizure. When the teacher has been warned in advance, she won't be surprised. She can lay your daughter on her side, and let her have the seizure. Then your daughter can calmly walk down to the school nurse or office when it ends.
"Your daughter could be back in the classroom in thirty minutes," Turk says. If she's taken for an unnecessary ride in an ambulance, she'll miss a lot more school.
This advice doesn't only apply to teachers, of course. You should let relatives, babysitters, scout leaders, and coaches know that your child has epilepsy. Also, let them know what they should do during a seizure.
In some cases, where your child's seizures are uncontrolled, home schooling might be a good option for a while. The convenience that home schooling offers a child with epilepsy, however, may be outweighed by the isolation from other children their age.