Sunday, January 4, 2009

Seizures in the Special Needs Classroom

News of Jett Travolta, John Travolta's son, dying following a seizure leads to thoughts about seizures in our classrooms. Seizures are part of day to day life for many students with multiple or significant disabililites. Students with hydrocepheleus, cerebral palsy, brian injury, Lennox-Gestaut, microcephely and other conditions may have seizures.

  • All staff working with students who have a history of seizures should have a basic understanding of what a seizure is, the types of seizures and how to respond to a seizure
  • Our students may have some sensations (an aura) before a seizure that tells them a seizure is coming; if the student is non-speaking he or she may have certain behaviors that occur or increase before a seizure. It is important to learn about these behaviors in order to enable you to help keep the student safe and provide emotional support.
  • Seizures will look different from student to student. Some may have staring spells or drop seizures, others with having twitching or other movements with a seizure. All staff need to be familiar with the type(s) of seizures a student may have and what to do about them.
  • Staff need to be trained in first aid for seizures. The primary reaction to any seizure will be to keep the student safe. Most people know, in this day and age, not to put anything in the mouth of the person who is having a seizure but we need to be aware that people in the community may try to be "helpful" in this way and stop them. If the student is likely to fall to the ground or has fallen to the ground the area will need to be cleared to prevent injury. Clothing should be loosened and movements should not be restrained.
  • All staff need to know the protocal for reacting to different types of seizures in different students. Every school or program has a different policy for who is to give primary first aid. If educational staff are responsible for administration of medication, like Ativan or Valium/Diastat, they need to be be trained and comfortable before a seizure occurs. Likewise if a student has a VNS (vagus nerve stimulator) the staff needs to know how to use the magnet.
  • All staff must know how to call for emergency response (usually 911) if a student who has no history of seizures has a seizure or if a student who is known to have seizures does not respond the the seizure protocal for that seizure.
  • Staff should stay calm during the seizure, remembering that the student may be able to hear you, speak calmly and say reassuring things, for example, "Hold on, buddy, just keep breathing, you are going to be ok."
  • Following a seizure staff must be respectful that seizures are a part of this student's life, there is no need to describe them using subjective adjectives like, "That was a nasty seizure." Our job is to normalize the lives of our students, not to further stigma.
  • Finally, although schools and programs vary, some record of seizure activitity is usually kept (our program uses a seizure log) and the parent or guardian must be notified.
For more information about seizures:
Children's Book about Seizures:
Books for Teachers and Other Adults:


  1. I wish all educators of children with special needs were as thorough in their knowledge and positive in their attitudes. When Nik fell and hit his head at school and had seizure-like activity (tonic-clonic, stiffening of limbs) whihc did *not* fit his normal seizure activity, no one even called me; they waited until I came to pick him up at the end of the school day to casually tell me. This happened TWICE in one week.

    Have I mentioned that I now home school my son?

  2. I guess that is why I write this blog -- so more educators will have more knowledge and think critically about how they follow through with the practice of educating those with the lowest incidence disabilities.

    That being said it is too bad that you don't have better programs where you are -- there are some great special ed programs. I am sure that you do a fantastic job at home with Nik, but I am guessing that not everyone in your area can home school.

  3. I took on a new position this year working in a new school as an E.A.(education assistant) working with special needs children. It was a very difficult beginning because I was not treated with respect as a fellow employee, as an educator, perfessional, as someone with a label, I total relate to my stdents that I work with as having medical needs, being treated different, I had to educate my fellow E.A.'s as what if....
    this happens or that teat me the same as WE were trained in college and by the school district if a seizure happens. As I have seizures, out of the blue 42 years old I am considered and unknown case, of having seizures which is controled by medication after going through all the tests eeg's, mri's nothing showed. I do like to keep my life private, as I have learned people do treat you very different. I now have a closer bond with my students, and respect, and also for the parents, which we have a communication book that goes home daily with any minor concerns and how the day went, there is also a safety plan that we read and sign with the parent and the resource teacher stating that if this should happen what is the procedure in place medicially, a 911 call, parent call etc. depending what is in the safety plan or behaviourly what sort of consequenc time out, detention, etc. Every students name and phone number is also posted visually with all opportunities to feel free as to phone with concerns, which I have done several times, which puts the parents and myself at ease, which at times also gives us a few minutes to chat, a good communication connection. Thank you

  4. I agree that all teachers should be trained in some of the more serious first aid situations. I can remember in my "Exceptional children Class" while working on my bachelors degree how we were told that if a student begins having a seizure, NOT to put your finger in his/her mouth. That was the extent of my training in seizures and the closet I came to having any training in Traumatic Brain Injury. Ironically, TBI is the leading cause of death and disability among children, which means they are in our classrooms and yet we know very little about TBI. Many times students with TBI have seizures.

  5. I agree that certain ways of talking about seizures can stigmatize them, especially if you are talking to persons in the community or the general ed classroom who may have no other experiences with seizures. However, I think talking to the child about their seizures is important. My students have flipbooks or eye-gaze boards with choices like "I need to sleep now." or "The medicine makes me feel funny." or "Call my mom" for use after a seizure. This was our effort to give our students back some control. MGH's website Growing Up With Epilepsy has some really great information on how to talk about seizures.


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