Teaching Students with Seizure Disorders

Most seizure disorders stem from a brain disorder commonly known as epilepsy in which there are abnormal electrical discharges that cause a temporary loss of control over certain body functions. Causes can be related to head injury, birth defects, poisons, diseases such as measles and encephalitis, circulatory disorders, brain tumor, and poor nutrition. Seizure disorders affect more than two million Americans.

Ignorance and myths about seizure disorders often cause more problems for a person with epilepsy than the condition itself. Because it is so misunderstood, employers often feel more reluctant hiring a person with epilepsy than any other disability.

Epilepsy has many forms ranging from massive convulsions to momentary lapses of attention, marked by a momentary stare or random movement. The following are the most common forms of seizures: a generalized tonic clonic seizure (also called grand mal or a convulsion), absence seizures (petit mal), and complex or simple partial seizures (also called psychomotor or temporal lobe seizures).

Grand mal seizures are characterized by loss of consciousness, stiffening or shaking of the entire body, violent jerking of the limbs, irregular breathing and bluish skin.

Petit mal seizures can take the form of having a "blank spell," losing awareness, twitching, staring, or blinking. This is sometimes mistaken for daydreaming or inattentiveness.

Partial seizures may involve mental confusion accompanied by aimless movements (i.e. pacing. chewing, irritability). This behavior is occasionally mistaken for mental illness or alcohol/drug abuse.

Whenever a person with a seizure disorder is seen by a counselor at Accessibility Services, we advise them to inform their instructors, Student Health and Counseling Services, and the University Police Department of their particular situation and needs. Self-disclosure is voluntary, however, so below are some procedures to follow if a student or staff member should have a seizure.

In cases of severe seizures, such as grand mal, any or all of the following signs and symptoms may be present.

  • Sudden loss of consciousness, student may fall to the floor.
  • Student may report bright light, bright colors, or sensation of strong odor prior to losing consciousness.
  • The student may experience convulsions and jerking motions, loss of bowel and bladder control, breathing may be labored, and there may be frothing at the mouth.
  • After convulsions, the student's body may stiffen.
  • When the student becomes conscious, he or she may be very tired and confused, and may complain of a headache.

Because of legal responsibilities, CSU East Bay policy requires that the University Police Department (UPD) be summoned if a student has a grand mal seizure with convulsions. As the instructor, you (or another student) can dial 911 from a campus phone and UPD will be dispatched immediately. If you are not near a campus phone, you can dial 911 from a cell phone and UPD will be notified by Emergency Services.

In the meantime, you can assist the student in the following manner:

  • Avoid restraining the student during a seizure.
  • Help the student to a lying position and place something flat and soft, such as a pillow or jacket, under his/her head.
  • Loosen restrictive clothing and remove glasses.
  • Turn the student's head to the side to provide an open airway.
  • Do not put anything in the student's mouth.
  • Time the seizure with a watch to inform the paramedics when they arrive.
  • After the seizure subsides, reassure the student by informing him/her everything is all right, that the student has had a seizure, and orienting him/her to time and place.
  • Don't try to give the student liquids during or just after the seizure.
  • Protect the student from embarrassment by asking onlookers to give the student some privacy, perhaps by announcing a break.
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