By Koeun Choi
School is pretty darn difficult. The endless stream of tests and assignments can be overwhelming to the average student. Students who deal with epilepsy also have additional hurdles to overcome in the academic environment. Because epilepsy is a spectrum disorder, there are varying degrees with which it can deter - not just academically but also socially - a child's experience at school.
Now, there are generally 2 types of seizures a person can have. An absence seizure is when a person "blanks out." It is often mistaken for inattentiveness, which sucks because most people who experience it, are not even aware that the seizure occurred. The second type involves convulsions and is the more widely recognized, but often misconstrued version of seizures a person can experience. (When somebody is convulsing, a widely misconceived notion is that you need to put something in their mouth to clamp down on, or hold restrain their bodies down - not necessary. Just place something soft underneath their head so they don't hurt themselves, and let the process end on its own.) After experiencing seizures, some may be energetically drained and may require recovery time. When something like this happens in class, it obviously takes time away from the student's time to learn. Not only that, seizures can occur during the night affecting how much sleep a student gets, making it difficult to focus the next day. Seizures in general disrupts brain activity and may affect cognitive learning and memory capabilities. Antiepileptic drugs can also present side effects deterring brain function by causing drowsiness and inhibiting concentration/memory.
Additional support should be provided for the student. However, a gray area looms over questions such as how should the teaching curricula should be set and adapted towards the child - if a student's learning is significantly slowed down, should he or she be separated into special educations class? What if a school is short staffed for such classes? What if they refuse to modify school policies on grades and tests for a child? What if the child becomes too much of a liability to be allowed to participate in a school trip or activity?
As you can see, not only are there the physical problems when dealing with epilepsy, many children can begin to suffer socially because of epilepsy. With some of the questions brought up above, parents can look towards their children's legal rights as dictated by the Individuals with Disabilities Educations Act (IDEA), a federal law that entitles all epileptic children to free and appropriate education in the most "normal" setting possible.
The embarrassment and the social stigma a person feels can develop at a very early age in school if the seizure episode isn't handled properly. As such, it is important for educators everywhere to be mindful of what to do to accommodate the student's learning. If convulsing occurs during class, it could potentially embarrass the child and frighten his or her classmates. It becomes a crucial moment to take action and be able to explain what had just occurred - "What is a seizure? Are they mentally ill? Is it contagious?" are all questions that if not answered properly or even just overlooked can lead to further misconceptions and worsen the stigma. It is important to stress that people with epilepsy are no different than you or I and the best thing to do when a student convulses is to keep him/her safe and be a friend when it is over.
Ultimately, the best way to fight the stigma against epilepsy starts right here with education.
Epilepsy Foundation. 2005. "Elementary and Secondary Education and Federal Law." Retrieved October 3, 2013, from http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/resources/epilepsy/upload/7-StudentsK-12.pdf.
Epilepsy Foundation. 2013. "Helping Children Understand." Retrieved October 3, 2013, from http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/livingwithepilepsy/educators/socialissues/helping-children-understand.cfm.
Epilepsy Foundation. 2013. "Your Child at School and Child Care." Retrieved October 3, 2013, from http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/livingwithepilepsy/parentsandcaregivers/parents/your-child-at-school.cfm.
Epilepsy Society. 2013. "School, Education, and Epilepsy." Retrieved October 3, 2013, from http://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/school-education-and-epilepsy#.UkzzkIZQEiU.