About 300,000 American children and adolescents have seizure disorders, also known as epilepsy. Today, thanks to regular treatment with medicines that prevent seizures, many children with epilepsy have these episodes infrequently or not at all and are able to participate fully in school activities. However, children who are still having seizures may run into problems at school, problems like isolation from other students, low self-esteem and a lower level of achievement. Fortunately, many of these problems can be overcome or prevented through appropriate management by an informed school staff, particularly the classroom teacher and the school nurse.
Most children with epilepsy develop and learn similarly to children without epilepsy; however, as a group their risk for problems with learning is increased threefold. Approximately 9 percent of children with epilepsy have IQ's below 70, a percentage that is three times greater than in the general population.
Children who achieve seizure control relatively quickly with few side effects and no cognitive impairments generally have the best chance for average or above average educational achievement. However, it is worth noting that children with epilepsy with average I.Q. may not achieve up to their potential, and attention problems have been identified across the spectrum. Loss of school time because of previously undiagnosed seizures or medical tests may also affect performance, even among children who are otherwise doing well.
Students with epilepsy are at increased risk for academic underachievement, particularly in the basic skills of reading, language, and arithmetic. Many of them are found to be significantly behind their peers in academic achievement levels, ranging from 16 percent below grade in reading to 50 percent in general knowledge. In addition, children with epilepsy have been found more likely to have impairment of self-concept and behavior than are children with asthma. Children with severe epilepsy are also likely to experience social rejection from peers.
Social Issues: Teachers & School Nurses Promote Understanding
Teacher attitude is an important factor in a child's social adjustment at school; programs for the school community form an important part of most Epilepsy Foundation programs in local areas. Such programs generally focus on teacher awareness of seizure symptoms, seizure management and full integration of the child within the community. School nurses also play an important role in the management of the child with epilepsy at school, especially in dispensing of antiepileptic medication during the school day, and in educating the rest of the school community about epilepsy.
Gaining access to needed educational services is often difficult for parents of children with epilepsy. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law which states that every child with a disability is entitled to a free, appropriate education in the least restrictive setting. Children with epilepsy may be entitled to special education and related services under the Act if having epilepsy affects their educational performance. Every state has laws providing for some kind of educational services for children with disabilities.
Students of all ages may face obstacles to participation in educational programs, sports or housing programs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) forbids discrimination against qualified students with disabilities by educational institutions, including colleges and universities. If a school or college receives federal funds, the anti-discrimination regulations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 may also apply.