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Return to School - Epilepsy

Learn about what teachers can expect when a student with epilepsy returns to school:

Return after a new diagnosis and extended absence

School-age children often require several doctor or hospital visits before an accurate epilepsy diagnosis is established and a suitable medication/treatment is started. This process can be time-consuming, and teachers should expect hours (or days) of missed schoolwork.  Understandably, this time can be traumatic and overwhelming for the family involved, in part because of upcoming lifestyle changes and the prospect of stigma.

Typical reactions of classmates

Some classmates react with fear and apprehension when a newly diagnosed student returns to school. Many students, even young ones, have heard about seizures. Other classmates react with confusion or indifference, and a few may ridicule or bully a returning student. The risk of bullying appears to be greater for students with epilepsy than students in the general (see the section on Interpersonal and Emotional Problems). However, little research has actually addresses how students might respond when a classmate with epilepsy first reappears at school.

Typical reactions of students with epilepsy

Many students are apprehensive about negative peer reactions if they disclose their epilepsy diagnosis. For example, a recent study found more than 80% of adolescents with epilepsy reported bullying or social isolation because of their epilepsy. Positively, however, this study also found some students reported that friends’ knowledge of their epilepsy proved to be supportive. Still, there was concern that classmates generally lacked details about epilepsy, which sometimes led to prejudice and stereotyping. Students with epilepsy thus appear left with a paradox about disclosing their diagnosis: on the one hand disclose and risk stigma, on the other hand do not disclose and risk compromising safety and access to classroom supports.

Availability of epilepsy re-entry programs

For schools seeking to ease school re-entry, some epilepsy-specific school reintegration programs exist, but only at a few major hospitals. Unfortunately, there are no obvious resources for schools to access (e.g., manuals specifying what to cover with classmates). Nonetheless, EdMedKids encourages educators to ask their students’ health care team about the availability of re-entry services or re-entry related material.

Ways to ease the return

Even without a formal re-entry program team (or materials), student-oriented epilepsy information is available for students at various developmental levels.  For example, The Epilepsy Foundation website suggests sharing facts to help dispel classmates’ myths about epilepsy and to curtail fear about the prospect of classmate who might seize. The same website offers several resources for teachers (e.g., fact-rich DVDs and lesson plans, a modifiable letter that can be sent home to inform parents about epilepsy).  Unfortunately, we know of no research that yet supports the use of these apparently-helpful information sessions. Considering the abundant stigma associated with epilepsy, it is advisable to consult the student and his or her parents before epilepsy-related information is conveyed to classmates.