For the first times in six months following the onset of COVID-19 in Ireland, this week sees children return physically to schools all across the country. This has led to excitement for children as they meet with their friends and continue their learning in this new environment but also has also led to understandable concerns and nervousness for parents and teachers alike.
This also applies to parents of children with epilepsy who may be worried about how their child's seizures are handled in school. We have been receiving queries about the management of epilepsy in school in the context of COVID-19 and this article aims to provide some information based off available evidence regarding epilepsy and COVID-19 to ease some concerns that parents may have. With this in mind however, we would be keen to stress that as COVID-19 is a very new virus, its potential effects for people with epilepsy and recommended guidance for people with epilepsy may change as we learn more.
With this in mind, the below is a summary of key points to consider for your child with epilepsy and their return to school.
COVID19 & Children with Epilepsy
- As a whole, there is no evidence to date that children with epilepsy as a group are more at risk of contracting the virus
- In addition, there is no evidence that those with epilepsy are more at risk of being more severely impacted by the virus if they do contract it
- In regard to the wearing of masks, the advice for people with epilepsy is to wear a mask in so far as possible as there is no vaccine for COVID-19 and the wearing of masks is proven to be a preventative measure against the virus
- Note that there is no obligation for children under 13 to wear a mask. Other exemptions, detailed here, also apply.
- We would note that in theory, the wearing of masks could cause hyperventilation which could lead to seizures - however this is likely to be an issue for only a small percentage of the epilepsy population. In addition to this, a child could be stressed or anxious about the wearing of masks which again could potentially lead to seizures. In such instances, this could allow for the child to have an exemption from wearing a mask in a school setting (however, this would need to be established with the school). A medical letter may also be requried. Note that visors are an acceptable alternative to cloth coverings. Further information on facemasks and epilepsy is available here.
- In addition to the wearing of masks, hand washing continues to also be a key preventative measure against COVID-19.
- Note that a high temperature can be a seizure trigger for some children so it is important to be alert to raised temperatures.
- If a child presents with symptoms, schools will be following official guidelines as to when they should return.
Seizures and School
It has been consistently recommended that any child with epilepsy who could have seizures in school - even in "normal" times - has their own Individualised Care Plan. Such a plan is detailed in our Education and Epilepsy Information Pack which is available for download here. Such a plan should cover the following information:
- what types of seizures the child has
- what triggers the seizures (if known) and which triggers might be modifiable
- how they are to be managed from a first aid perspective
- who is to administer first aid
- whether emergency medication is prescribed for prolonged seizures
- who is to administer emergency medication
- details of who is to be contacted and when
- what an emergency is for that individual child
- arrangements for recovery
- any effects on concentration, behaviour and learning from the seizures or medication
It must be stressed that seizure management needs have not changed because of COVID-19 measures. Seizures still need to be responded to, as they always have been - as per the child's care plan.
However what now also needs to be considered is the safety of the first responder and the encouragment of taking preventative measures against COVID-19 - such as ensuring that they are wearing a facemask or that they have sanitised their hands before responding to a seizure.
In addition to seizure first aid in a COVID-19 enviroment, it would be reasonable to say that you should remove a facemask from a child whilst having a seizure (if possible) and when they are in the recovery stage after the seizure subsides.
In general however, schools may have their own policies with regard to seizure incidences in school - such as immediately calling an ambulance for example. This is something you would need to discuss with your child's school in the context of their care plan.
How Epilepsy Ireland can help you, your child and their school with their return to the classroom.
As noted throughout this pandemic, we are still here for you for support and advice on your child's epilepsy and that has not changed. Our team of Community Resource Officers have already delivered a number of talks to staff at schools on epilepsy training & awareness online. We have listed a number of resources below which by of use and please do not hesitate to get in touch should you have any questions on the above.
- Community Resource Officers - they are there to support you and your child on their journey with epilepsy. They also deliver education and awareness talks to schools. If you are a parent or a teacher and would like to discuss the possibility of this for your child/school, please do not hesitate to get in touch. Deatils of your local Community Reource Officer are available here.
- Education Information Pack - this is a very useful and detailed resource on epilepsy for both parents and teachers alike. You can download the Pack here.
- Epilepsy Awareness and Admistration of Buccal Midazolam - Buccal Midazolam is a rescue medication which is administered during a seizure under medical advice to reduce seizure duration. Given promptly, this relatively simple procedure can prevent major disruption to daily life resulting from hospital emergency treatment. Despite the COVID19 situation, there is still a demand amongst teachers, SNAs & healthcare professionals to be trained in the administration of Buccal Midazolam or have their current certification refreshed and we are now offering this service online. Completion of the class will lead to a 1 year certification in the administration of Buccal Midazolam following the completion of a short online test. The class and test will be conducted by Epilepsy Ireland Training Manager, Paul Sharkey. To find out when the next online training session is taking place for professionals such as SNA's, click here and to make an inquiry you can contact Paul on email@example.com.
- Epilepsy Awareness and Admistration of Buccal Midazolam for Parents - our team of Community Resource Officers are also carrying out demonstrations online for parents and for families on a one to one basis. Please contact your local CRO if you would like to discuss.
- Epilepsy and School - please see list of common FAQ's here
- Epilepsy and Children; A Guide for Parents - this resource may be very useful for parents where the child has recently been diagnosed and is availble for download here.
The Department of Education & Skills have released a series of videos aimed at providing information to each child and their parents regarding getting back to school. For ease of access, we have linjed to these below.
Information for Parents on getting Children Back to school
Information for Junior Infants to Second Class students on going back to school
Information for third to sixth class students on going back to school
Information for secondary school students on going back to school
Everyone at Epilepsy Ireland would like to wish every child, teacher and school across the country every best wish with their return to the classroom over the next period. For those parents with children with epilepsy and those teachers and schools with students with epilepsy, remember that we are here for support and advice so please do not hesitate to get in touch - we would be more than willing to assist with any query you may have to help ease any concerns you may have. You can get in touch by contacting your local Community Resource Officer here.