What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a physical condition. It's a chronic neurological disorder that is characterised by recurrent seizures. It affects an estimated 40,000 people in Ireland and 50 million worldwide.
Different types of epileptic seizures occur depending on which part of the brain is affected. The cells in the brain, known as neurones, communicate with each other using electrical impulses. During a seizure, the electrical impulses are disrupted, which can cause the brain and body to behave strangely.
The severity of the seizures can differ from person to person. Some people simply experience a ‘trance-like’ state for a few seconds or minutes, while others lose consciousness and have convulsions (uncontrollable shaking of the body).
Most people with epilepsy lead outwardly normal lives. Approximately 80% of conditions can be controlled by modern therapies.
IMPACT ON LEARNING SKILLS & DEVELOPMENT
The majority of people with epilepsy lead a typical life, and helped by modern therapies, some may go months or years between seizures.
People with severe seizures that are resistant to treatment usually have shorter life expectancy and an increased risk of learning problems, especially if the seizures developed when they were young children. These problems may be related to the underlying conditions that caused the epilepsy or to epilepsy treatment rather than the epilepsy itself.
Sometimes having epilepsy can impact a person’s living and recreational activities (e.g. bathing and swimming alone) and if having break through seizures. It may impact on career choice (the ability to drive a vehicle), since having a seizure while doing certain things could create danger for the individual or others.
Learning Strategies and Supports
Antiepileptic drugs may cause side effects that interfere with concentration and memory. Students affected in this way will benefit from having extra time to complete classwork and assignments. They may also need to have instructions or other information repeated for them.
The majority of children with epilepsy will have typical development and will not have additional disabilities. However, there will be some whose development has been impacted on by their particular epilepsy syndrome or by other factors that can sometimes disrupt development such as frequent hospital stays.
Parents of infants, toddlers and young children with disabilities can access the HSEʼs Early Intervention Teams. These multi-disciplinary teams consist of a range of professionals with expertise in child development including medical professionals, psychologists, social workers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. They provide assessment and intervention services to the 0-5 age group.
If a parent has concerns regarding their childʼs developmental progress, they may seek to have the child referred for an Assessment of Need by the HSE. The assessment may screen for concerns in relation to the childʼs physical, cognitive, emotional, social and adaptive behaviour and identify areas of need. Following the assessment, a HSE Liaison Officer is required to prepare a service statement within a month of the assessment being completed. This service statement will state what services the child will require and an action plan will be developed to deal with how these are to be provided subject to resources.
Parents seeking an Assessment of Need can ask their GP, Public Health Nurse or the childʼs Consultant to refer the child or they can make a parental referral by contacting their local HSE clinic.
At Primary and Secondary Level Education:
Most children with epilepsy attend mainstream primary and secondary schools with their peers unless they have additional needs requiring a special placement. Whilst having the same level of ability as their peers, children with epilepsy can be at risk of underperforming due to seizures, hospitalisation, effects of medication and cognitive issues such as memory problems.
These issues themselves do not attract school-based learning support, unless the child is performing in the lowest range at school. In this instance, The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) is responsible for providing assessments within schools. The School can commission a small number of assessments each year through the NEPS but waiting lists are lengthy and private assessments by NEPS approved psychologists will be accepted for this purpose.
If the child meets the assessment criteria, they may be awarded a set number of hours of resource time per week and may also be eligible for a Special Needs Assistant. While most children with epilepsy do not meet the criteria for this support, it is important to discuss any support concerns with the principal in the event that an assessment is warranted.
The Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) is an officer of the National Council for Special Education with responsibility for allocating resources to pupils with special needs and related issues in schools see www.ncse.ie for a list of SENOʼs in each county.
At Third Level Education:
Epilepsy is one of the Neurological Conditions covered under the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) system.
Dysgraphia is one of the developmental co-ordination disorders covered under the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) system.
DARE - Disability Access Route to Education - School leavers with DCD (Dyspraxia / Dysgraphia) who are under 23 years old (at 1st January of the application year) can apply for a college place through DARE:
Applicants complete the CAO application by 17.15pm on 1st February. CAO opens for applications on 5th November at 12.00 noon. See www.cao.ie
By 1st March, applicants must answer YES to Question 1 ('Do you wish to be considered for DARE?') on Section A of the Supplementary Information Form (the SIF is a part of your CAO application).
Applicants with a Neurological Condition are required to provide:
Evidence of their disability (Evidence of Disability Form 2016 OR Existing report from a Neurologist OR other relevant consultant (No age limit).
Educational Impact Statement - must be completed by the applicant and your School Principal, Teacher or Guidance Counsellor and returned to the CAO by 17.15pm on 1st April.
Full details of the DARE screening criteria are available here.
You don’t have to be eligible for DARE (Disability Access Route to Education) to get support in college. All students with a verified disability, regardless of whether they come through DARE or not, can avail of a variety of academic, personal and social supports while studying at third level. Further information on the support available in college can be found at accesscollege.ie.
Training for Success - One year course for people with Epilepsy run by IT Sligo.
All eligible students are paid a SOLAS training allowance equivalent to their social welfare payment and a weekly accommodation allowance.
Students participate in a wide variety of activities including lectures, tutorials, presentations, assignments, portfolio development, project work. discussion groups, one to one supported training, goal-setting, peer learning, outdoor pursuits and much more.
Click here to read leaflet:
In the Workplace
Many organisations now make public claims to be an "equal opportunities employer". This suggests the existence of an equal opportunities policy (EOP), which is a policy statement adopted by the organisation declaring an intent not to discriminate and, further, to promote equality by taking steps to aid disadvantaged groups. Such employers are in effect promising to avoid discrimination on grounds of sex or marital status, and may also make such a commitment in relation to people with a disability and racial and ethnic minorities.
Workplace Equipment Adaptation Grant (WEAG)
If you are a person with a disability who has been offered employment or are in employment, and require a more accessible workplace or adapted equipment to do your job, you or your employer may be able to get a grant towards the costs of adapting premises or equipment. Details of WEAG grants available and how to apply are available here.
Impact on Career Choice
Skills for workplace success fall into two main categories: hard skills and and soft skills. Hard skills are job-specific and they vary, depending upon the industry or field in which you want to work. For example, a graphic artist must have the computer skills that go with that job.
Soft skills are the personal characteristics that go with a variety of jobs - they include social skills, problem solving, communication, time management, and organisation. For example, a person who prefers to work alone might find a research job particularly appealing. Explore Career Skills in more detail here.
Most people with epilepsy have efffectively stabilised the condition and lead full and active lives. People with epilepsy can also perform the vast majority of jobs. Career choice will require individual assessment and consideration of seizure pattern, frequency and relevant safety issues.
Epilepsy does restrict certain functions, particularly driving, and therefore limits certain related career options (bus driver; truck driver; train driver; fork lift truck operator; airline pilot).
There are also some concerns about people with epilepsy working with machinery. However, epilepsy does not restrict a person from working with correctly guarded machinery (Ref. Epilepsy Ireland). There are grants available for adapting worklace equipment where appropriate.
Famous People with Epilepsy
Musician, Neil Young; Lord of the Rings Actor , Hugo Weaving; Actors Danny Glover and Richard Burton; Historical figures, Alfred Nobel, Theodore Roosevelt, Vincent VanGogh, Lory Byron and Julius Caesar.