Epilepsy and Learning Disabilities: Helping Children at School
Mar 23, 2017
Epilepsy is not just about seizures. What many people don’t realize is that for some children with epilepsy, problems with learning and school performance can sometimes be harder to deal with than the seizures themselves.
Why Are Kids with Epilepsy at Higher Risk for Problems at School?
Children with epilepsy are at risk for having attention problems, learning disabilities, and other cognitive weaknesses, such as difficulty with memory or problem-solving skills. Often, seizures and cognitive difficulties can be caused by the same underlying problem in the brain. In some cases, the seizures themselves can impact brain development, particularly for children who have very frequent seizures.
Seizure medications are important to help control seizures, but sometimes they can have side-effects that impact attention or thinking speed. For some children, having seizures can also affect sleep, school attendance, and the ability to focus during the school day.
What Should I Do If I Think My Child Is Having Difficulty?
As a neuropsychologist, one of the most common questions parents ask is: What can I do if my child is struggling in school? The first step should be to talk with your child’s school about whether they may need additional support. Many children with epilepsy and learning difficulties can qualify for special education services which can be provided through an Individualized Education Program (IEP), or for classroom accommodations which can be provided through a Section 504 Plan.
You should also talk to your child’s neurologist if you suspect they may be having learning or thinking problems related to their epilepsy. In many cases a referral for a neuropsychological evaluation might be recommended.
What Is a Neuropsychological Evaluation?
A neuropsychological evaluation is designed to help parents, doctors, and schools better understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses. The goal of the evaluation is to help form a plan to address their learning and behavioral needs. The evaluation will involve a parent interview to learn more about your child and family, then your child will take tests designed to look at their intelligence, academic skills, attention, language, memory, and other problem-solving skills.
Following the one-on-one testing session, you will meet with the neuropsychologist to discuss test results and you will be provided with a written report that outlines results and recommendations.
The evaluation report may include:
Information about whether your child has a diagnosis of a learning, attention, cognitive, or other mental health disorder
Suggestions for school about what types of extra support could be considered
Suggestions for what you can do at home to help address your child’s needs
Other recommendations such as consideration of medications, counseling, additional therapies, or other community resources
Kelly A. McNally, PhD, is a pediatric neuropsychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital and a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University.
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