With the condition affecting one in 103 people in the UK, epilepsy is far more common than you might think – and it’s important that teachers and support staff get clued up on how best to support those affected. We find out more from Epilepsy Action
Whether you work in a special education environment or not, the chances are that, as a teacher, you will teach a pupil with epilepsy at some point in your career. In the UK, 600,000 people have epilepsy, with 87 people diagnosed with the condition every day.
“Epilepsy is diagnosed when somebody has recurrent seizures, as opposed to a single seizure,” explains Cherry Lander, advice and information services officer at Epilepsy Action, the UK charity which works to improve the lives of people with epilepsy in the community. “There are lots of different types of epilepsy and lots of different types of seizure, and the way in which it affects people is really varied.”
Which is why Epilepsy Action has produced some useful resources to help teachers get a better understanding of the condition and how it affects their pupils. There are 40 different types of seizure, and some people with epilepsy might have more than one type of seizure. Seizures occur for a variety of reasons, from tiredness to flickering lights.
Amongst Epilepsy Action’s education resources are videos which explain different types of seizure, and how to respond. They also have two free online courses – the first is a more general course aimed at all school staff, while the second goes a bit more in-depth.
“Some people use the short films for the whole school, and then the class teacher or the SENCO who needs that in-depth knowledge will do the course for teachers,” explains George Matson- Phippard, the charity’s electronic learning officer. “That’s why we have the wide selection of resources, so you can pick and choose.”
Epilepsy can have an impact on pupils’ learning in a variety of different ways – and it’s worth remembering that it’s a very individual condition. For some, it can cause issues with memory or attention, and there’s the associated emotional impact too.
“If a pupil has a seizure in the classroom, it could be a tonic-clonic seizure, which is where you lose consciousness and start to shake, so they might need to have first aid,” George says. “They might need taken out of the class, and it might mean missing lessons, especially if their seizures aren’t controlled.”
With absence seizures, which last for seconds but can occur in clusters, it can often look like children are daydreaming or not paying attention, which can make them difficult to diagnose – and can mean they miss a lot of what’s going on in class. In most cases, children just need brought up to speed and can carry on with their day – but it’s important to keep an eye out for any signs or symptoms.
What Cherry and George both stress is the importance of updating your own knowledge of epilepsy – and for your whole school, pupils included.
“Children with epilepsy need support socially, and they need support with managing it in the classroom,” Cherry points out. “There is still a level of stigma around epilepsy. Raising awareness means everybody is more informed and they’re less likely to see it as a really big problem.”
Check out Epilepsy Action’s education resources to educate yourself – and your wider school community.
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