Epilepsy Australia urges more schools to adopt Epilepsy Smart School program
In the lead up to International Epilepsy Day on February 11, 2019, Epilepsy Australia is urging Australian schools to adopt the Epilepsy Smart School program, as less than 5 percent of the 9,500 schools across the nation are properly trained in coping with and understanding the needs of students with epilepsy.
National President of Epilepsy Australia, the peak coalition of Epilepsy organisations, Wendy Groot, says of nearly 4 million students aged 4-18 years across Australia, it is estimated that 19,201 live with epilepsy, or 1 in 200. Epilepsy is also in the top 3 (after asthma and diabetes) of health conditions for school children and is in the top 5 of avoidable causes of death in people aged 5 to 29.
These alarming statistics reinforce the need for schools to exercise their duty of care under the Australian Government’s Disability Standards for Education 2005 framework, to create safe and supportive educational environments for the thousands of students with epilepsy. However, only 475 schools across the country currently meet these requirements, despite epilepsy specific training being readily available.
The Epilepsy Smart Schools program helps schools establish inclusive, safe and educationally sound practices for the benefit of all primary, secondary and special school students.
According to Ms Groot, there are three steps to becoming a recognised Epilepsy Smart School:
Hold specific epilepsy management plans for each of the school’s students with epilepsy
Participate in epilepsy specific training
Hold an event that promotes better awareness and understanding of epilepsy.
“Considering 0.5% of the student population live with epilepsy, within which there are over 40 different types of the condition experienced, it is imperative schools take an individualised approach to meet each student’s needs,” says Ms Groot.
“First aid training is not enough – beyond seizures and daily medication, teachers need to understand the psychological, social and cognitive impact epilepsy can have and adapt their teaching methods accordingly.“
Anecdotally, the impact of epilepsy cognition and learning :
cognitive overload (e.g., finding it hard to keep up at school) 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 (e.g., Autism).
Obstacles commonly faced by children with epilepsy at school:
not being able to participate in activities, such as sports and camps
missing classes/ school days
embarrassment due to seizures, seizure behaviours or accidents
anxiety, depression and moodiness, including anger and frustration from seizures or medication.
“It is incredibly important that we see a change in the number of schools that are Epilepsy Smart. If a student has epilepsy, more than 95 percent of schools would not be equipped to understand and modify education strategies, which is simply not good enough.”
Since 2017, Epilepsy Australia has expanded the program so that all Australian schools are eligible to become recognised as an Epilepsy Smart School. Epilepsy Australia is working towards all schools eventually becoming Epilepsy Smart Schools to ensure safe, inclusive and supportive environments for students living with epilepsy.
For more information on how to become an Epilepsy Smart School, please visit epilepsysmartschools.org.au/