Navigating Back to School with Epilepsy: 10 Tips for Parents and Students

September 5, 2023

The beginning of a new school year can be an exciting yet challenging time for both parents and students, especially when epilepsy is part of the equation. As parents and caregivers, ensuring a safe and supportive environment for students with epilepsy requires careful planning and open communication with educators and school staff. Here are 10 valuable tips for parents and students to navigate the back-to-school transition smoothly and make the upcoming academic year a successful one.

  1. Open Communication is Key: When the school year starts, establish open lines of communication with teachers, school nurses, and administrative staff.
    • Inform them about your child’s epilepsy diagnosis, triggers, and any specific needs they might have.
    • Discuss seizure types, signs, and appropriate responses to ensure everyone is well-prepared.
    • Offer resources and training materials about epilepsy to teachers and staff. This can help them better understand the condition and how to respond effectively.
    • Inform the school immediately of any changes in your child’s health or medication regimen.

  2. Create an Epilepsy Action Plan: By creating a well-documented epilepsy action plan, you empower school personnel to respond effectively in case of a seizure and provide your child with a safe and supportive learning environment. This plan is a critical tool in ensuring your child’s health and well-being at school.
    • Begin by working closely with your child’s healthcare provider, such as a neurologist or epileptologist, to create a personalized epilepsy action plan.
    • Describe your child’s specific seizure types, triggers, including any distinctive characteristics and how long they typically last.
    • List all current medications, including names, dosages, and administration schedules. Ensure this information is kept up-to-date.
    • Share emergency contact information, including your contact details, your child’s doctor’s information, and any other relevant contacts.
    • Provide step-by-step instructions on how to respond if your child experiences a seizure. This should include:
      • What to do if a seizure occurs during class or elsewhere on the school premises.
      • Whether or not to administer rescue medications, and if so, detailed instructions on how to do so.
      • When to call 911 or seek immediate medical assistance.
      • How to provide comfort and support during the postictal phase (the period after a seizure).
    • Ask your child’s school administration about a Plan of Care document under the Ontario government’s PPM 161 memorandum

  3. Develop a Seizure Response Team: Identify key individuals who will be responsible for responding to seizures at school. This may include teachers, school nurses, and even fellow students who are aware of your child’s condition and how to offer assistance when needed. Encourage the school to designate a point of contact or liaison for matters related to your child’s epilepsy. This person can help coordinate efforts and ensure that all staff members are aware of your child’s condition.

  4. Educate Teachers and Peers: Arrange an informative session with your child’s classmates and teachers about epilepsy. Demystifying the condition can reduce stigma and foster a more inclusive environment. Use this opportunity to clarify any misconceptions and answer questions.

    The training should cover various aspects, including understanding different types of seizures, knowing when to administer rescue medications (if applicable), and providing comfort and support during and after a seizure. Depending on the age and maturity of students, consider involving peers in the response team. Educate these students about epilepsy and how to offer support and understanding to their classmate during and after a seizure. Learn more about Epilepsy Durham Region’s comprehensive classroom and school staff presentations.

  5. Promote Self-Advocacy: Teach your child about their epilepsy and how to advocate for themselves. Encourage them to communicate their needs to teachers and peers, while also knowing when and how to ask for help if they experience any symptoms or difficulties.

    Promoting self-advocacy empowers students with epilepsy to take an active role in managing their condition and communicating their needs effectively. Here’s a more detailed explanation of why this is important and how to encourage it:
    • Foster open communication between the student and their teachers. Encourage them to discuss their epilepsy, triggers, and any necessary accommodations.
    • Teach them how to express their needs and preferences in a respectful and assertive manner. This includes asking for extra time on assignments, requesting seating away from potential triggers, or explaining their medication schedule.
    • Ensure that the student knows the steps outlined in their epilepsy action plan. Teach them how to communicate these steps to teachers, school nurses, or peers in case of a seizure.
    • Stress the importance of seeking help promptly when needed.

  6. Medication Management: If your child takes epilepsy medications, work with the school staff to ensure they’re administered correctly and on time. Provide clear instructions and any necessary medication, along with emergency contact information.

  7. Prepare for Special Circumstances: Discuss strategies with the school for managing situations such as field trips, physical education classes, and extracurricular activities. Make sure your child’s needs are accommodated during these times as well.

  8. Seizure-Proofing the Environment: Collaborate with the school to create a safe classroom environment. Discuss potential seizure triggers and ensure that any hazardous objects or obstacles are removed. If your child is photosensitive, consider addressing classroom lighting.

  9. Encourage Emotional Support: The emotional well-being of a student with epilepsy is crucial. Offer them a safe space to express their feelings and concerns. Consider connecting them with support groups or counselling services if needed.
    • Provide educational resources about epilepsy for the student and their classmates. A better understanding of epilepsy can lead to more empathy and support from peers.
    • Emotional support is a critical component of a successful transition back to school for students with epilepsy. It helps them manage the psychological and social aspects of living with epilepsy.

  10. Regular Check-ins: Throughout the school year, stay in touch with teachers and school staff to monitor your child’s progress and address any emerging issues. Regular communication ensures that everyone remains informed and can make necessary adjustments if required.
    • Plan and schedule regular meetings between the student, parents or guardians, teachers, and school staff. These meetings can be held monthly, quarterly, or as needed based on the student’s specific situation.
    • Collaborate with teachers to identify areas where additional support or accommodations may be needed.
    • Collaborate with the student to set academic and personal goals for the upcoming months. Encourage them to outline steps they can take to achieve these goals.
    • Keep detailed records of each check-in, including the topics discussed, decisions made, and action items. This documentation helps track progress and ensures accountability.

Navigating back to school with epilepsy requires collaboration, planning, and open communication between parents, students, and school staff. By following these tips and fostering a supportive environment, parents can help their children thrive academically and emotionally while managing their epilepsy. Remember, a well-prepared and educated community can make a significant difference in ensuring the success and well-being of students with epilepsy.