As the new school year approaches, it is good for all families to plan ahead for a successful transition from the summertime. Epilepsy can bring additional considerations and challenges for students and their families. Use the tips below as a guide to working towards a healthy and positive start to the new school year.
Preparing Your Child
Time to Adjust and Routines
- The last few weeks of summer are a good time to slowly adjust schedules to fit the new school year. This might mean adjusting bedtimes, mealtimes, and, in some cases, medication times with the advice of your epilepsy medical team
- Children tend to do best when they help create routines and stick to them. Routines will help you and your child’s epilepsy care team assess how well a medication is working and whether or not side effects from the medication could be affecting their learning.
Address Your Child’s Concerns
Talk with your child about concerns they have managing their seizures at school. Children of different ages will have different concerns. You might be surprised by the questions they ask you or the feelings they share. Your child may benefit from extra reassurance about the possibility of having a seizure at school. Make time to
- Plan a meeting for your child with their teacher and the school nurse. Encourage your child to share privately with them their concerns about having a seizure at school.
- Plan a special visit with your child’s epilepsy nurse, doctor, or social worker. Talk about how together you will coordinate and communicate with school personnel to keep your child safe at school.
- View the Epilepsy Foundation’s age-appropriate resources to help you in addressing your child’s concerns.
Visit the School
For many children (and parents!) a sense of familiarity with the school brings comfort. Take your child to visit the school before school starts. Visit their classroom and the school nurse’s office. Even if you cannot tour the hallways and classroom early, a visit to the school can be a good time to explore the outdoor space, including the playground. Parents can assess the area for seizure-related safety concerns and make sure the appropriate precautions are in place for recess and outdoor play times.
Create a Special Place for Homework
Set up a dedicated space at home for schoolwork. Let your child decorate their space and prepare it for the year ahead. Having some control of their learning space and preparing it in advance can build positive energy around the return to school.
Celebrate the Return to School
Start a tradition of celebrating the first day of school. This will give your child something positive to focus on, besides the first day of school jitters. Whether it is a candle in their breakfast pancake, a silly family photo with back-to-school hats, after-school popsicles on the playground with a friend, an after-school bike ride with mom or dad, or just reserved quiet time for listening to all the details of their first day, lending the spirit of celebration will help make the first day of school something your child looks forward to.
Introduce Your Children to Their Peers
Each child with epilepsy deals with seizures differently. Some children are matter of fact about their seizures while others feel embarrassed about having seizures, especially if they happen in the classroom or during activities with friends. Helping your child understand there are others who face and overcome similar challenges can make them feel less alone.
Preparing the School
Meet with Key School Staff
Schedule a parent meeting with your child’s teacher and the school nurse at the beginning of the school year. Use this time to share key information regarding your child’s seizures, including time to review a detailed seizure action plan (also called a seizure response plan) as outlined by your child’s doctor. Make sure that all adults who may supervise your child during the school day and after school (coaches, after-school caregivers) know how to respond if your child has a seizure. If your child will have regular visits with a school behavior counselor or physical, speech, or occupational therapist, make time to meet with them early in the school year to address any specific concerns. If your child has an individualized education plan (IEP), make time to review and ensure appropriate resources are in place.
Share Goals and Expectations Early
Share goals and expectations for the school year with your child’s teacher and school nurse. Make sure these are included in any IEP or 504 plans. Plan together, as a team, the best way forward to maximize your child’s learning potential.
Discuss Learning and Behavior Issues
Share with your child’s teacher how epilepsy may affect your child’s learning and behavior. Talk about issues that may arise during your child’s school day related to seizure activity, medication side effects, or anxiety about having a seizure. Discuss how difficulty with attention or memory may also affect your child.
Partner with Your Child’s Teacher
Ask your child’s teacher to share information with the classroom about epilepsy in a way that is age appropriate and reassuring to students. Having a seizure at school can be embarrassing for a child and may also cause fear and anxiety in classmates. Encouraging acceptance and understanding in the classroom, while educating students about epilepsy, is key to providing a supportive environment for your child.
Paperwork and Communications
- School staff needs up-to-date and specific information to best help your child. Even if your child will be attending the same school as in previous years, it is still important to update staff with any new medical information.
- Keep a communication log of reports from the teacher or school nurse. This helps you organize and share information about your child’s progress and seizure history at school with their epilepsy doctor or nurse. Using the Epilepsy Foundation My Seizure Diary can assist with logging any seizure activity reported by the school.
- The Epilepsy Foundation provides tools to help you communicate your child’s specific health needs to the school. Download forms available here to help you share information about your child’s seizures and medications, medical provider contact information, and tips for seizure observation.
- Work with your child’s epilepsy doctor or nurse to fill in the forms the school will need to be completed. Take time to review them in person with the school nurse and your child’s teacher. Provide a hard copy for the school nurse and your child’s teacher. Always keep an extra copy with you at home in case the need to share them with other school personnel (for example, an after-school program teacher, coaches, or field trip teachers or aides).
- Use our Toolbox to find the following forms and other forms for communicating health information:
Maximize Learning: Know Your Child’s Rights
Most children with epilepsy can participate in the classroom without extra help. Some children will need additional services, special instruction, or accommodations. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the United States. It ensures special education and related services to those children. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities.
Navigating the system to coordinate assessments and ensure timely implementation of services can be challenging. Some students are eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The IEP includes written documents that describe specific adaptations or modifications for the learning and/or healthcare needs of an individual student.
- Contact your local Epilepsy Foundation for information on 504 and IEP resources. Learn more about the laws in your state and what specific services might be available in your school district.
- Make an appointment with the social worker at your child’s epilepsy care center to discuss your child’s specific learning and health care needs. Ask for help to start the IEP assessment process and to collect the medical information that may be needed to determine what school supports your child is eligible for.
- If your child has had an IEP in place, take time to review it before each school year begins. Advocate for updated assessments to ensure your child’s healthcare needs and learning potential is being met.
- Read more about the legal rights of children with epilepsy here
How can the Epilepsy Foundation help?
- We provide education programs that can help school nurses, teachers, and other school personnel build their knowledge around epilepsy and how to best support students with epilepsy in the school environment. Contact your local Epilepsy Foundation or visit our training section to learn more.
- We can provide lessons on seizure first aid to your child’s school personnel, including after-school program staff, library staff, administrators, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, athletic coaches and trainers, and custodians. Contact your local Epilepsy Foundation or check out our seizure training for school personnel.
- We have resources for your child and their classmates to help them better understand epilepsy and seizures, be a friend, dispel myths, and stop bullying. Learn about our “Take Charge of the Facts” program for high school students, “Take Charge of the Storm” program for middle schoolers, and “Take Charge of the Storm Jr.” for kindergarten through 5th grade.
- Our network of nationwide offices offers parent groups that provide facilitated parent-to-parent support and advice. Contact your local office to learn what is available in your area.
- We provide online education for families. Join us online for webinars, Facebook Live presentations, community corner updates, and weekly updates on a variety of topics. Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to get notices about these online opportunities.
- We can help you connect with others online who are going through the same things you are. Join the community forums and chat here on our website and follow us on social media.
- Our advocacy team works on many fronts, including safeguarding disability rights. Many local Foundation offices have designated staff to assist with advice around specific education or advocacy issues. Reach out for support by calling our 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-332-1000 or contact your local office directly. Read about advocacy efforts here.
- Our network is working across the United States to provide opportunities for in-person learning workshops, community activities that provide support to families and youth, online webinars, and education conferences. Connect with your local office to join our epilepsy community. Learn, share experiences, and have fun getting to know other amazing families living with epilepsy.