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Epilepsy Factsheet (for Schools)

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
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What Teachers Should Know

People with epilepsy have repeated seizures. A seizure is caused by a surge of electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can vary in severity, frequency, duration, and appearance. Most kids and teens with epilepsy can be treated with medicine to control seizures.

Seizures can be scary, but most only last a few seconds to a couple of minutes. A student may lose consciousness, jerk or shake uncontrollably, or seem to have trouble breathing. Seizures may leave a person temporarily confused or unaware of their surroundings.

Some seizures are so brief and minor that only careful observation can detect them — a student may simply blink or stare into space for a moment before going back to normal activity.

Things that can sometimes trigger seizures in people with epilepsy include:

  • flashing or bright lights
  • lack of sleep
  • stress
  • illness or fevers

Students with epilepsy may:

  • need to go to the school nurse for medicines, or rest if they feel a seizure coming on
  • have side effects from medicine, causing them to be tired, moody, or less attentive
  • miss class time due to seizures or doctor visits
  • have learning or behavior problems
  • need seating accommodations so teachers can watch for seizures 
  • feel embarrassed about their condition

What Teachers Can Do

Most students with epilepsy can participate in school sports, gym class, and other activities, with appropriate supervision and precautions.

Talk with the family to learn what happens when their child has a seizure. Make sure your students with epilepsy have a seizure action plan as part of their IEP or 504 education plan. Be familiar with the plan and be prepared to respond in the event of an emergency.

Most seizures are not life-threatening. But if one lasts longer than 5 minutes or your student seems to have trouble breathing, call 911 right away.

Kids and teens who have had a seizure may be tired, disoriented, confused, or even combative and agitated for minutes to hours. Your student may need to go to the school nurse to lie down or go home for the day. You can help by providing extra time to make up any missed class work or assignments.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2021