Having epilepsy does not automatically mean having learning difficulties, but some people with epilepsy report difficulties with memory, concentration and fatigue, all which have an impact on learning.
Epilepsy can be associated with wide-ranging learning difficulties which means it is critical that children and adults with epilepsy have the appropriate supports to develop to their full potential.
To ensure each person with epilepsy has this opportunity, teachers need to understand the diverse symptoms of epilepsy and the specific nature of each persons seizures and treatment and how it affects that person
Epilepsy is an “invisible” condition – seizures come and go, so others often don’t recognise that people with epilepsy can have ongoing symptoms
Cognitive and learning difficulties
Learning difficulties can be related to:
- The type of epilepsy and what part of the brain is affected
- for instance, some seizures originate specifically in the region of the brain related to memory function
- how often the seizures happen and when they occur
- seizures in sleep will disrupt sleep patterns causing daytime drowsiness
- seizures first thing in the morning will impact on learning during the day
- the time absent from class because of seizures
- the time it takes to recover from seizures, which is variable for each person
- unwanted medication side effects
- presence of other brain conditions or damage
Some of the difficulties students with epilepsy may experience are problems with:
- Short and long term memory
- Attention and concentration
- Visual and/or verbal learning – reading, spelling, rote learning, speech and language
- Perceptual abilities, numeracy, problem-solving and memory recall
- Motor ability – handwriting may be poor and performance slower
- Psychosocial problems – low self-esteem, frustration, anxiety, depression and poor motivation
- Maintaining consistency in learning
- Behaviours – commonly attention-seeking or withdrawing
- Changes in mood, depression and anxiety
If learning difficulties are inconsistent they may be directly associated with seizures or with taking medication. It is good to keep a records of when they happen or are worse. So, take note of:
- if learning difficulties or memory/concentration problems happen at a particular time of day, corresponding to the peak levels of medication in the blood or correlating with a seizure.
- when the learning difficulties began. Was it when seizures started or when the medication was started?
- if difficulties began when there is a change in type of medication or increase in dose of medication.
Sometimes problems can be related to medication, which may improve after the initial few weeks – until the medication is at ideal levels for seizure control.
When starting a new antiepileptic medication the initial side effects are worse, and generally improve or disappear over time.
For more information about epilepsy medication click here.
Anxiety and depression
People with epilepsy have a higher rate of anxiety and depression than the general population.
There is no doubt that anxiety and depression can affect attention, memory and learning.
This can be underestimated, yet these symptoms are quite common. Problem-solving and higher thinking, are greatly diminished when someone is suffering from anxiety and/or depression. These symptoms can interfere with all areas of a person’s life, including work, school and their relationships.
If you feel you or your child has anxiety or depression, it is best to see a professional and get help. You can get a referral from your GP (Medicare will fund 10 sessions of psychology under the Mental Health Plan)
Headspace and ReachOut have resources for young people
Black Dog Institute, Beyond Blue and MindSpot are all a good start for adults.
Ways to recognise and help with learning difficulties
Try and get an assessment to find out your baseline abilities. This is mostly done by a neuropsychologist and called neuropsychological assessment or psychometric testing.
If abnormalities or deficiencies are found, then you have knowledge of what areas of difficulty you need to work on for you or your child and the education facility should accommodate or assist.
In schools this can then lead to the development of an Individual Education Plan to support, enhance and assist with learning for that student based on strengths and weaknesses. This may have different names in different states.
Any social, emotional, bullying problems or difficulties at home should also be addressed and tackled as these can significantly affect learning as well.
For More Information:
Factsheet – Epilepsy and Education (for teachers). This also has teaching strategies that may help.
Classroom problems and solutions
Cognitive symptoms of depression
Online Resources and Courses
We have developed a number or resources to help gain more knowledge about epilepsy and ways to improve seizure control and quality of life. Many of these resources are for a broad audience while others are targeted toward a more specific audience.
E-quip, An Epilepsy Resource for Youth: Specifically designed for youth, this resource covers topics concerning youth and has a number of videos with young people discussing their experiences.
Strong Foundations: This resource is designed to help parents with a child attending mainstream school to identify if their child is experiencing epilepsy-related learning challenges. It aims to give parents ideas about how to support their child to achieve their potential.
There are two free short online courses for school aged children to learn about epilepsy. Epilepsy Awareness