Just because your child has epilepsy doesn't mean he or she shouldn't participate in social and athletic activities. Check with your doctor first, but unless the condition is quite severe, most children are able to engage in ordinary activities. Preparing your child to participate in activities and educating the people around him is key to creating a safe and fun experience.
Here are a few basic tips about being safe, smart, and having fun when your child with epilepsy heads out to play with friends, classmates, and with you!
School, play dates, and other social events
- A major concern, in and out of school, is that a child might be rejected by others who have witnessed a seizure and feel apprehensive about witnessing another one. This can cause low self-esteem in a child who feels others are reluctant to befriend her because she is different. Eventually, the apprehension is felt by both the child with epilepsy and their friends and classmates. Keep in mind that many children and teens fear epilepsy because they simply don't know how to help a friend who is having a seizure-and that feeling of helplessness can be very frightening.
- Take the time to educate your child's teachers and peers about epilepsy. Explain that a seizure is due to a very temporary "confusion" in brain signals, that it only happens for a few seconds or minutes, and then the brain returns to normal. The age of your child's classmates will dictate how much information you should give them-as well as what type of language to use. Very young children may not understand any of the epilepsy vocabulary you use at home or with doctors. The best rule is to keep it simple and ask your child's teacher to suggest appropriate ways to give this information to the kids in the classroom.
- Explain that although seizures may be scary but they are not "catchy." You cannot "get" or "catch" epilepsy from someone who has it. Describe what a seizure might look like, or what will happen to your child physically during a seizure-your child's classmates should know what to expect.
- Prepare teacher, friends, and classmates what your child might be like after a seizure. Some kids don't recall anything at all after a seizure, others may feel sleepy, and some may feel ill and need to go home.
After a seizure
- Knowing what to expect may help the students be less upset if they witness a seizure and decrease any negative feelings or even social stigma that may result.
- At school, encourage the teacher, school nurse, or school counselor to discuss the seizure episode with your child's classmates and those who witnessed the seizure as soon as possible. The Epilepsy Foundation's, Seizures and You: Take Charge of the Facts video has great ideas for helping parents and teachers of teens discuss epilepsy in the classroom. A Child's Guide to Epilepsy has excellent tips on talking to young children about their epilepsy diagnosis.
- On a play date, discuss the events with the caregiver, child(ren), and any adults who were present during your child's seizure. Allow the children to express their concerns and fears concerning your child.
- At a social event, talk to the people present and explain what happened in a matter- of-fact way. You certainly don't owe them a medical briefing, but it can help ease tension and reassure people that your child is fine when you offer a simple explanation.
- Talk to your child about what happened and explain that you and the doctor are working to try to control the seizures, but that it takes time. Your child's age and personality will dictate how and what type of information you give him. Some children want as much information as possible, others don't. They have a wide variety of coping skills-speak to your child's doctor and school counselor for help.
- After your child recovers from the seizure, encourage him or her to stay involved in school and social activities despite any embarrassment he or she may feel. Over time, the memories of the seizure will fade in intensity.
- Unfortunately, children do suffer consequences as a result of having seizures that are witnessed, and many children with epilepsy do feel different. See if you can enroll you child in a support group through your local epilepsy organization, so he or she will not feel so alone, and will be able to interact with other children with similar conditions.
Sports and your child
Once your child's epilepsy is under control, there is no reason for her not to participate in sports and active play. If your child has frequent seizures and her doctor says it is OK to participate in sports, here are a few things to consider:
- Take some time to select which sports your child can safely participate in. If seizures are difficult to control or severe, you may want to steer away from water sports, contact sports, or sports in which an adult is not close by your child. Some parents feel more secure with field sports, such as soccer or baseball. Your child can participate in so many things-they will find a sport that will work for them. Just be sure to consider what might happen if your child has a seizure during the sport. Will they be in a pool, on a field, out of range of immediate assistance?
- Educate your child's team and coach about what to do if she experiences a seizure and reassure them that playing a sport, in and of itself, will not cause a seizure. Make sure the coach can reach you or a caregiver if your child has a seizure during a practice or game.
After a seizure during an activity
- Just as in school, discuss the seizure openly with those who witnessed it so that you may address any questions or concerns.
- Encourage your child to return to play as soon as she is able. The objective is for your child to enjoy herself with her peers and not feel isolated or rejected.
The Epilepsy Foundation offers several online support groups for you and your child.
Shoshana Dayanim, PhD is a developmental psychologist and mother of two with teaching and research expertise in media and child development. She has written articles guiding parents to local age appropriate activities and in research psychology journals.