She looked up at me slowly, her big brown eyes filled with bewilderment and concern, “Is Jacob going to be ok?” 5-year-old Alyssa asked. The kindergarten class had been having morning snack when my son had a seizure. “Yes honey he will be ok,” I told her, “Sometimes he has seizures but they do not hurt him so don’t be afraid.” Later that same year during a Fourth of July celebration my nephew ran to my son and began to cover his eyes when a flashing firecracker was exploding. When I asked him what he was doing he said, “The flashing light will give him the seizures!” These misunderstandings are simply because like so many of us these kids had been misinformed about seizures.
More common than most people think epilepsy affects more than 2 million Americans with 300,000 of those children under the age of 15 according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, 150,000 newly diagnosed cases of seizures occur each year and 10 percent of the U.S. population will experience a seizure during their lifetime. Knowing what causes seizures and explaining to our children how to respond in an emergency situation is important to fostering an understanding of epilepsy.
When a person, especially a child, has a seizure in public the experience can leave them feeling disoriented and sometimes cause embarrassment when misconceptions and confusion lead to improper care and misunderstandings. Seizures happen when neurotransmitters - the wiring in our brains - send signals to our nerves at a much higher or lower rate than needed. That abnormality in signals is what causes the seizure. And seizures are not only experienced by epileptics, people without epilepsy can still experience seizures as a symptom of other diseases such as: cerebral palsy, tuberous sclerosis and autism. Seizures can also be brought on by an extremely high fever, head injury or poisoning.
Seizures come in many types from mild to severe. The two basic categories of seizures are focal and generalized. Focal seizures, petit mal as they were once classified, are not always apparent to the outside world. A person will be unresponsive but conscious and experience strange feelings and emotions. This state is sometimes referred to as an aura. The second and larger type is generalized seizures, grand mal as they were once classified, with symptoms varying from the four types of seizures in its classification: tonic, clonic, myoclonic and atonic. A person can experience muscle spasms, a loss of muscle tone, consciousness, and sometimes loose bladder control.
With seizures the person experiencing it can be disorientated due to the lack of consciousness, but in general, seizures pose no threat to the person having them. Thankfully when Jacob had a seizure at school everyone knew what to do. The children sitting next to Jacob called for the yard duty teacher who arrived quickly and stayed with him keeping him on his side and timing the seizure on her wrist watch. Another older child went to the office to tell the staff to call 911. When the seizure was over he was carried to the nurse’s station where he was able to lie down and wait for the ambulance. The experience was an easy one to explain to the students because the staff had already been informed of what to do in this type of situation. When Jacob went back to school the next day he was welcomed without any stigma associated with his illness.
Here are some tips and first aid from www.epilepsyfoundation.org that can help better prepare parents, teachers and students for such a situation.
1. Communication is paramount if you have a child with epilepsy. I always get to know the principal, school secretary and most importantly my child’s teachers. In an emergency these are my greatest allies.
2. Parents should explain facts about epilepsy to their school age students. The more children know the less afraid they will be should a seizure happen.
3. Preparation is a key to safety. If a teacher or other staff member is having a seizure, students should be prepared to go to the office for adult help immediately.
1. Stay calm. There is no way to help someone if you are not capable of keeping a clear head. If an adult is having a seizure a student should go to the office immediately for adult help while all other students stay seated.
2. Time the seizure.
3. Move all objects away from the seizing person such as desks, chairs etc., so there is a lesser chance of them injuring themselves.
4. Gently roll the seizing person onto their side. This is important for their airway and incase vomiting occurs (which is rare). It is not true that a seizure will make a person swallow their tongue. It is preferable to sit behind their back so that they have space to move.
5. Put something soft and flat under their head such as a sweatshirt or coat.
6. Stay with the seizing person until the seizure ends and paramedics arrive.
Talk with your children epilepsy and seizures, it will teach them how to react calmly in an emergency situation. With education and awareness we can teach our children to be understanding, compassionate and helpful. Without Alyssa’s and the staff’s help Jacob might not have gotten the immediate attention that he needed that day at school. To learn more on epilepsy and seizures please visit: www.epilepsyfoundation.org.