Epilepsy Special Needs Factsheet
What Teachers Should Know
Epilepsy is a disease in which the brain’s electro-chemical signals misfire. This temporarily disrupts communications among nerve cells, leading to seizures. Seizures can vary in severity, frequency, duration, and appearance.
Seizures can be scary — students may lose consciousness, jerk or thrash violently, or appear to have difficulty breathing. Seizures may leave students temporarily confused or unaware of their surroundings. Some seizures are so brief and minor that only careful observation can detect them — a student may simply blink or stare into space for a moment before resuming normal activity.
Most kids and teens with epilepsy can be successfully treated with medication. Certain things can sometimes trigger seizures in people with epilepsy, including:
- flashing or bright lights
- lack of sleep
- too much stimulation (from computer screens or video games, for example)
Students with epilepsy may:
- need to go to the school nurse for medications, or rest if they feel a seizure coming on
- have side effects from medication, causing them to be tired, moody, or less attentive
- miss class time due to seizures or doctor visits
- have other neurological problems that cause learning disabilities or behavior problems
- need seating accommodations so teachers can watch for seizure-like symptoms
- feel embarrassed about their condition
What Teachers Can Do
Most students with epilepsy can participate in school sports, phys-ed, and other activities, with appropriate supervision and precautions.
Make sure your students with epilepsy have individualized care plans and be prepared to respond in the event of an emergency in accordance with the plan.
Most seizures are not life threatening, but if one lasts longer than 5 minutes or your student seems to have trouble breathing, call 911 immediately.
After seizures that last more than 30 seconds, most kids and teens are exhausted, disoriented, confused, or even combative and agitated for minutes to hours. Your student may need to go to the school nurse to lie down or go home for the day. You can help by providing extra time to make up any missed class work or assignments, and offering emotional support.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2013