Epilepsy can have an impact on young people’s communication, cognition and motor skills, even if seizures are controlled. Difficulties with academic progress and underachievement are not confined to young people with identified special educational needs and can often be overlooked.
Young Epilepsy’s ABLE tool (Assessment of Behaviour and Learning in Epilepsy) is a simple questionnaire that school staff and parents can use to identify areas in cognition and behaviour that might impact a young person’s learning. This information, and any planned support arrangements, should be included in the young person’s Individual Healthcare Plan (IHP).
The ABLE tool questionnaire should be revisited termly to identify any changes in support needs.
If a young person with epilepsy shows deterioration or plateauing in their learning, then this should be reported to their parents to pass on to the young person’s healthcare team.
The four main factors that contribute to learning issues in young people with epilepsy are:
Seizures can disrupt a young person’s ability to learn because they either cause unconsciousness or alter awareness. Young people may also be affected in the minutes, hours or days before and after a seizure. Nocturnal seizures can also result in tiredness or memory difficulties.
Epilepsy is a fluctuating condition with difficulties appearing to resolve for a time and then resume again unexpectedly. Even when seizures are controlled, many young people will continue to need learning support because brain development and the acquisition of skills has been disrupted or delayed.
Side effects of antiepileptic medication
Some antiepileptic medication can cause side effects that may affect a young person’s learning and behaviour. These include drowsiness and lethargy, slower information processing, poor attention, memory difficulties, problems with movement and co-ordination, and mood changes.
Side effects are more likely to occur when a new drug is first introduced, if a young person takes more than one antiepileptic drug or if the dosage is changed.
Young people with epilepsy have a higher probability of developing certain other conditions, including autism, ADHD, OCD and emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Having an additional condition (known as a comorbidity) can complicate the diagnosis, treatment and management of epilepsy, as well as the co-occurring condition. It can also result in further learning and behavioural difficulties.
Epilepsy can have a negative psychosocial impact on young people and their families. This can include stigma and bullying, fear of harm, over-protection, exclusion and poor social relationships.