26 June 2002

Learning difficulties associated with epilepsy

Only a few children with epilepsy have low intelligence and need special education.

The misconception persists that epilepsy is associated with low intelligence, but this is true for only a few children, where seizures are the result of brain damage or structural abnormality. These children may need special placement to meet their educational needs.

The majority of children with epilepsy are as capable of learning as other children, and can attend mainstream schools, where many do very well.

Most children with epilepsy test within the same intelligence range as other children and have no trouble keeping up with their class. However, some children with epilepsy do have learning difficulties, and may achieve at a lower level than their test scores predict. These children will need some extra attention to reach their full potential.

Underachievement may be a result of the following:

Direct effects of seizures
The more frequent and severe the seizures, the more likely they will impact on learning. After a seizure a child may be unable to remember certain recent events, and post-seizure tiredness may also negatively affect concentration. Some types of epilepsy may cause sleep disturbances and consequent tiredness at school.

Unrecognized seizure activity may be interfering with attention and memory. For example, undiagnosed absence seizures may result in "memory gaps".

There may be some underlying condition in the brain that is interfering with learning, memory or information processing. These problems may show up especially in mathematics, reading and tasks involving memory.

Side-effects of anti-epileptic medication
This may affect the child's ability to learn. For example, the child may feel excessively sleepy and lack energy. A change in medication or when it is taken might help.

Psychological and social factors
Psychological and social factors include feelings of inferiority, poor motivation, anxiety about the possibility of having a seizure in class, and overprotection or incorrect attitudes about the condition from family, classmates or teachers. These problems are the result of societal misinformation about epilepsy. (See Epilepsy and social stigma).

Parents and teachers can greatly help with this by informing themselves, the child and his or her classmates about the condition.

Missed lessons
Underachievement may be related to prolonged periods away from school for medical tests and treatment. Missed schooling is usually easily remedied through extra tutoring.

Most learning difficulties are mild and can be surmounted fairly quickly, but sometimes they are more serious. A child is more likely to experience serious learning difficulties if he or she has uncontrolled seizures or physical and mental problems in addition to epilepsy.

A neuropsychologist knowledgeable about epilepsy can conduct tests to help determine if the learning difficulties are due to a specific learning disability. Testing for learning disabilities may identify specific difficulties that correlate with where the seizures occur in the brain.

Special education techniques can then be used that may help the child overcome the problem.


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.