What you need to know about "epilepsy" in children

(by Marianna Gregoriou - Assistive Technology Consultant)

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is not just one condition, but a group of many different 'epilepsies' with one thing in common: a tendency to have seizures that start in the brain. Epilepsy is usually only diagnosed after a person has had more than one seizure. Not all seizures are due to epilepsy. Epilepsy is most commonly diagnosed in children and in people over 65. (Epilepsy Society, 2016)

Epilepsy is an illness that, for a brief time only, changes the way a child’s brain works. Although seizures can vary in how they look or feel, they are all caused by a sudden surge of electrical energy in the child’s brain. This leads to sudden changes in how a young child may act, move or feel. Seizures may last a few seconds or a couple of minutes, and then the brain goes back to normal again. The child may not remember what happened. (Marie Kanne Poulsen, Psychologist)


Seizures present in many ways:

The child may suddenly fall, getting stiff with shaking or jerking of an arm or leg or all over. The child may be seen experiencing episodes of blank staring that last only for a few seconds. The child may have changes in mood, feeling afraid or angry for no apparent reason. The child may appear confused, with almost trance-like behaviour during which the child’s consciousness is impaired. (Marie Kanne Poulsen, Psychologist)


How epilepsy can affect a child at school?


Equality Act 2010

It is against the law for education and training providers to discriminate against people with epilepsy. This includes nurseries and playgroups, primary and secondary schools, and further and higher education. The Equality Act covers extracurricular activities. It also covers how the curriculum is delivered and so methods of teaching need to treat all children fairly and not put any children with epilepsy at a disadvantage. However, the Equality Act does not cover the content of the curriculum. (Epilepsy Society, 2015)


Seizures at school

For some children, having epilepsy will not affect their ability to learn or succeed academically but others may need extra time or support in class. For example, a child who has absence seizures may miss key points during lessons. Having a chance to catch up on what they have missed in class can be helpful if seizures happen frequently. Sometimes a child may need time to recover after a seizure, and may need to sleep.  (Epilepsy Society, 2015)


How will other children feel about epilepsy?

Generally, people feel more confident about epilepsy when they understand it and know what to do if someone has a seizure. Learning about epilepsy in the classroom can be an effective way to introduce information about the condition, without any children with epilepsy feeling that they are singled out. (Epilepsy Society, 2015)


Key points to help children understand what happened:  

What happened to the child is called a seizure. It happened because for just a minute or two the child’s brain got mixed up and sent mixed up messages to the rest of his/her body. Now that the seizure is over, his/her brain and his/her body are working properly again. Seizures are not like a cough or a cold; they can’t be caught from other children.  Seizures stop by themselves. We help the child who is having a seizure if we stay quiet and do not get in his/her way, keep him/her safe, and be a friend when it is over. Encourage other children to ask questions (Marie Kanne Poulsen, Psychologist)



Epilepsy Society(2016, December).”What is epilepsy?” Retrieved June 25, 2017 from https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/what-epilepsy

Epilepsy Foundation North Carolina (2009, September)” What is epilepsy?” Retrieved June 26, 2017 from  http://www.epilepsync.org/About%20Epilepsy.html

Epilepsy Society (2015, January). “Teaching children with epilepsy” Retrieved June 25, 2017 from   https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/teaching-children-epilepsy

Epilepsy Society (2015, January). “School, education and epilepsy” Retrieved June 25, 2017https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/school-education-and-epilepsy

Epilepsy Society (2015, January). “Teaching children with epilepsy” Retrieved June 25, 2017 from   https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/teaching-children-epilepsy

Poulsen M. “Epilepsy in young children. A guide for Preschools and child care centers.” Retrieved June 26, 2017 from http://www.uscucedd.org/component/jdownloads/send/10-epilepsy/56-epilepsy-in-young-children-a-guide-for-preschools-and-child-care-centers


More information  

1.      Act on Epilepsy video example


2.      Risk assessment about epilepsy