Helping Children Understand
When an episode of automatic behavior or a convulsion occurs in the classroom, the whole class is affected.
They may be afraid for the welfare of the affected child. They are likely to be upset at the sight of apparently serious illness in someone who had seemed as healthy as they only a few moments before. They may feel vulnerable themselves.
When this happens, children need factual information suitable to their age. They need reassurance that what has happened poses no danger to them or to the child who had the seizure.
Unless handled appropriately, the fear generated by the event may become fear of the child who had the seizure. This kind of progression can cause the child to be shunned, teased, or both.
When the teacher or the school nurse explains to the other children what has happened, answers their questions, and gives them a chance to say how they feel about what occurred, the social impact of the seizure can be reduced. This discussion should take place as soon as possible after the seizure.
The youngster who had the seizure should be told such a discussion is planned and be allowed to decide whether he wants to be included in it. If the child chooses not to be present when epilepsy is discussed or if it is not possible for him to be there, he should be told afterwards what was said. During the classroom discussion, the teacher or the school nurse should first describe what caused the seizure and then invite the children to ask questions and express their feelings about what happened.
Key points to help children understand:
- What happened to the child is called a seizure.
- It happened because for just a minute or two the child's brain did not work properly and sent mixed up messages to the rest of his body. Now that the seizure is over, his brain and his body are working properly again.
- Having seizures is part of a health condition called epilepsy, which some children have.
- Epilepsy is not a disease and it can't be caught from other children.
- Children who have this condition take medicine to prevent seizures, but sometimes one happens anyway.
- Seizures stop by themselves, but it's good to know first aid steps that will keep a child safe while the seizure's happening.
If the seizure was a convulsion, the teacher should emphasize that the child was not in any danger, even though he looked as if he was. If the seizure produced unusual behavior, it should be emphasized that what happened does not mean the child has a mental illness or is "crazy."
If the child with epilepsy is present, he or she can be brought into the discussion with questions like:
- (To the child): Can you tell us what it feels like when you have a seizure?
- (To the class): Can anyone tell us how they think they would feel if they had a seizure? What would they want the other children to do?
- (To everyone): What's the most important part of helping someone who's having a seizure? (Answer: Keep him safe and be a friend when it's over.)
Even if the child cannot be present during the discussion, similar points can be made to encourage understanding and acceptance when he or she returns.
The Epilepsy Foundation offers educational programs that can be used at various grade levels to lead a more in-depth discussion about epilepsy and seizures in the classroom. There are also additional resources from partner epilepsy organizations that are valuable for teaching students about epilepsy.
Seizures and You: Take Charge of the Facts: An educational program designed for high school students, this evidence-based program teaches about seizure first aid and reducing stigma. It includes materials for a 45 minute lesson, as well as extended lesson plans and a DVD.
Seizures and You: Take Charge of the Storm (coming soon!): Similar to Take Charge of the Facts, Take Charge of the Storm is targeted to middle school students and includes the information listed above, as well as bullying resources.
H.O.P.E. Mentoring Program for Elementary School Students-Seizures in Childhood: A H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People with Epilepsy) Mentor in your community can visit your school and share age appropriate information about epilepsy for children ages 4 through grade 3. To schedule a training with a H.O.P.E. Mentor, please contact your local Epilepsy Foundation.
EpilepsyClassroom.com - Created through a cooperative agreement between the Epilepsy Foundation and UCB Inc, Epilepsy Classroom provides lesson plans from preschool to grade 12 about epilepsy, as well as other classroom resources regarding seizure first aid and reducing stigma among classmates for the child with epilepsy.
Anita Kauffman Foundation - The Anita Kauffman Foundation offers seizure first aid information and an epilepsy education program targeted at 5th grade students, as well as additional classroom resources.
Letter to Parents After a Seizure in the Classroom - Sample letter for teachers to send to other parents after a child has a first time seizure in the classroom. While the focus of most programs is on educating classmates, often parents have as many misperceptions and fears as their children.