Questions you may have
What sort of learning could be a problem?
A study of school children with active epilepsy found that:
- Over half of the children found it more difficult to learn than other children
- Over half of the children had problems with their memory
- Just under half of the children had problems with the speed with which they processed information
- Just under half of the children were not achieving as much as they could at school. The greatest difficulties were in mathematics and understanding and remembering what they have just read
- Six out of 10 parents said that their child had difficulties with attention and concentration
How does epilepsy affect learning?
Epilepsy can have an impact on learning in a number of ways:
- The cause or type of epilepsy
- The effects of seizures
- Epilepsy treatment
- Time off school
- Related conditions
The cause or type of epilepsy
Some children have epilepsy because of damage to their brain, and this damage also causes learning difficulties.
Children with some types of epilepsy have a lot of epileptic activity in their brain, but don’t appear to be having seizures. This can happen while awake or asleep. If this happens a lot, it can affect a child’s memory and how they learn.
The effects of seizures
Epileptic seizures can disrupt normal brain activity, and this can affect your child’s memory. Depending on the type of seizures a child has, they may feel very tired or confused after a seizure. They may also have interrupted sleep which will make them tired. Feeling tired or confused can affect how well a child can learn.
The more seizures a child has, the more pieces of information they will miss. For example, if a child has hundreds of short absence seizures in a day, they will miss many little bits of information. This can lead to gaps in their learning.
For some children, epilepsy medicine can cause problems with language, memory, concentration or understanding. However, for some children their memory and understanding improves when they start taking epilepsy medicine.
Time off school
Some children with epilepsy miss parts of their education because they need time off to go to medical appointments or recover from seizures. This can have an effect on their learning.
Some children with epilepsy also have other conditions which can have an impact on their learning and behaviour. A study of school children with epilepsy found that 6 out of 10 showed some symptoms of at least one of the following conditions:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Developmental co-ordination disorder
- Depression or anxiety
Only 2 in 10 of these had been diagnosed with one of these conditions. This is worth bearing in mind if your child is struggling with their learning.
What can I do if I think my child is having problems with their learning?
Learning difficulties often go unrecognised in children with epilepsy, so it’s important to talk to the school if you think your child is struggling with their learning.
You could speak to their class teacher or the person at the school in charge of special educational needs. This person is often called a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO), but the name varies depending on which part of the UK you live in.
Tell the teacher or SENCO about the problems you think your child is having, and ask how they can support them. Some schools may not realise how epilepsy can affect learning, so you could show them the information on this page, or ask them to take our free online course for teachers.
We have information for schools on supporting pupils with specific learning and behaviour issues.
Once you and the school have agreed on a plan for supporting their learning, this can be included in their Individual Healthcare Plan.
What if school can’t give the support my child needs?
Some children may need more support with their learning or behaviour than the school can offer on its own. This could be because their needs are complex, or because the school doesn’t have the right resources.
If this is the case for your child, you or the school can apply for extra support from the local authority. In England this support is called an Education, Health and Care plan. In Northern Ireland and Wales it’s called a Statement of Special Educational Needs, and in Scotland it’s called a Co-ordinated Support Plan.
For more information, see our page about getting extra support for special educational needs and disabilities.
How might epilepsy affect my child’s behaviour?
Many of the possible causes of learning difficulties we’ve talked about on this page could also affect your child’s behaviour. But there are some things extra things that it’s worth considering:
The effects of seizures
Some children may behave differently in the time before, during and after a seizure.
In the hours or even a few days before a seizure, some children may get a ‘funny feeling’, be confused, anxious or irritable. This is called a prodrome.
If your child has focal seizures, they may behave in unusual ways during the seizure. These behaviours may include gagging, lip smacking, running, screaming, crying, and/or laughing. Your child will have no control over these behaviours during the seizure and will not be aware of what they are doing.
If your child has absence seizures, these can be hard to spot. Sometimes they can be mistaken for daydreaming and not paying attention in class.
After a seizure, it’s quite usual for a child to be confused, have a headache, feel sleepy or have problems with vision or speech. Some children may feel anxious or unhappy for hours or days after a seizure.
Very rarely, a child might have a condition called post-ictal psychosis. This can be very frightening and can change a child’s behaviour. It can cause them to have a strong belief that something unreal is true, or hear or see things that are not there.
Side-effects from epilepsy medicines
Some children may have side-effects that affect their mood or behaviour. These could include hyperactivity, irritability, aggression, drowsiness, dizziness and problems with memory and concentration.
The social and emotional impact of epilepsy
Having epilepsy can have an effect on your child’s social and emotional wellbeing. They might feel frightened about having seizures, or worry about being different from other children. They might feel isolated from their friends. They could be bullied because of their epilepsy. All these things could affect your child’s mood and behaviour.
It is important that the school is aware of these possible things your child might be going through. They could all have an effect on your child’s behaviour and wellbeing at school.
Coming to terms with the diagnosis
It can be really difficult to come to terms with a diagnosis of epilepsy. This can affect all members of the family in different ways. As a parent, finding a way for you to come to terms with your child’s diagnosis and feel less anxious, may help your child do the same.
When your child is first diagnosed it may be a challenge to find a balance between keeping them safe and allowing them their independence. Many parents find that helping their child maintain as much independence as possible helps with their general wellbeing. This should help them come to terms with their epilepsy.
And the more positive your child feels, the more likely it is that other people will not see their epilepsy as a problem.
If my child’s behaviour changes what can I do about it?
The first thing to work out is where the behaviour is happening and who with. If the changed behaviour is happening everywhere, there may be a medical cause. If the change is only happening at home, or at school, it may be worth looking at what might be happening in that particular setting.
Here are some questions to help you work out where the problem might be.
- Where is it happening?
- What is their teacher saying about how they are in school?
- Can you identify any particular triggers for the behaviour?
- Are they being bullied?
- Has it started happening at the same time as a change of epilepsy medicine?
- Has it changed at the same time as poorer seizure control?
- Are there any seizure triggers that might be avoided?
- Are they getting stressed? Do they need help with staying more relaxed?
The answers to these questions will help you, the school and healthcare professionals to work out what is affecting your child’s behaviour, and how to help.
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