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Article published 11th June 2008

Most children with epilepsy attend mainstream schools and do not require any additional provision, aside from special consideration or understanding. 

Epilepsy is the tendency to have recurrent seizures originating in the brain as a result of excessive or disordered discharge of brain cells. Some children with severe epilepsy may need to attend a special school, of which a limited number exist.

Coping at school

Epilepsy does not have any bearing on intelligence, although epilepsy may be an additional aspect of learning or physical difficulties. Where seizures are frequent or severe, daily activities and routines may be compromised.

It is important not to underestimate the impact on a sufferer’s self-esteem of the attitudes of family and friends.

If a child suffers ongoing (subclinical) seizures without any outward signs, or is on medication, their behaviour or learning may be affected.

About epilepsy and seizures

There are two categories of seizures:

  • Generalised seizure: both hemispheres of the brain are involved and the sufferer loses consciousness. The seizures include major convulsions with jerking of all limbs and unconsciousness (tonic clonic); seizures when the body goes stiff (tonic) or floppy (atonic); jerks of the limbs (myoclonic jerks); and momentary lapses of consciousness (absences).
  • Partial (or focal) seizure: the disturbance of brain activity starts in, or involves, a specific part of the brain. The nature of such seizures depends upon the area of the brain involved. Partial seizures may be simple or complex. Consciousness is not lost in a simple partial seizure, but is impaired in a complex partial seizure.

Causes of epilepsy

Idiopathic epilepsy often starts in childhood or adolescence and is largely due to genetic causes. People with idiopathic epilepsy may inherit a low seizure threshold. This would mean that given certain conditions (individual to each person) they might have a greater susceptibility to having a seizure.

Symptomatic epilepsy may be due to brain damage or anomaly from any cause, for example infection, tumours, brain damage or specific syndromes such as Sturge-Weber syndrome, tuberous sclerosis or some metabolic disorders. The pattern of events will depend upon the underlying cause (sporadic in the case of Sturge-Weber syndrome, for instance).

In cryptogenic epilepsy no known cause may be found for the epilepsy, which can begin at any time in the individual’s life.

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