Urgent call for epilepsy specific training – “First aid is not enough” EA says
Less than 5 per cent of education sites across Australia have received epilepsy specific training, exposing children to unnecessarily high levels of risk, Epilepsy Australia (EA) has said.
Using the occasion of International Epilepsy Day (11 February), EA asked that education sites “adopt the Epilepsy Smart Schools Program so that children can live free of stigma and discrimination”.
Epilepsy is a disorder of brain function that involves recurring seizures. About 4 per cent of the population will have epilepsy at some stage of their life and its symptoms and effects are different for every person.
A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled electrical discharge in a group of brain cells (neurons). During a seizure, neurons can fire up to five hundred times a second – more than six times the normal rate, and for a brief period this can cause strange sensations, emotions and behaviour or convulsions and loss of consciousness.
The program has been designed with educators in mind, and provides tools to support educators to cope with and understand the needs of students with epilepsy. Epilepsy Australia National President Wendy Groot said there were approximately 19,201 children aged four – eighteen years old in Australia who were living with epilepsy.
“Epilepsy is also in the top three (after asthma and diabetes) of health conditions for children and is in the top five of avoidable causes of death in people aged five to 29,” Ms Groot said.
Whilst the program available focuses mainly on school-based contexts, and will therefore likely be of interest to outside school hours care services, there are some elements of the program which may serve early learning sites, including these three tips on starting the journey to supporting children with epilepsy:
- Hold specific epilepsy management plans for each child with epilepsy
- Participate in epilepsy specific training
- Hold an event that promotes better awareness and understanding of epilepsy.
“Considering there are 40 different types of the condition experienced, it is imperative that education sites take an individualised approach to meet each children’s needs,” Ms Groot said.
“First aid training is not enough – beyond seizures and daily medication, educators need to understand the psychological, social and cognitive impact epilepsy can have and adapt their teaching methods accordingly.”
The impact of epilepsy on cognition and learning includes::
- cognitive overload (for example, finding it hard to follow educator instructions, or changes in routine) can cause seizures
- seizures can also make it difficult to concentrate and remember new information
- memory difficulties can be a side effect of medication
- some children with epilepsy also have a co-existing developmental condition (for example, Autism).
“It is incredibly important that we see a change in the number of education sites that are Epilepsy Smart. If a child has epilepsy, more than 95 per cent of education sites would not be equipped to understand and modify education strategies, which is simply not good enough,” Ms Groot said.
Since 2017, Epilepsy Australia has expanded its program so that all Australian schools are eligible to become recognised as an Epilepsy Smart School. It is possible that this program may expand to include early childhood education and care (ECEC) sites in future.
The organisation said that it is working towards all schools eventually becoming Epilepsy Smart Schools to ensure safe, inclusive and supportive environments for students living with epilepsy.
More information about the program, currently only available for school sites, can be found here