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Seizure Action Plan

By Mohamed Ghumra, MD

According to the latest estimates, approximately 0.6 percent of school aged children (0-17 years) have active epilepsy. This means that in a school of 1,000 students, about six of them have epilepsy.

If your child experiences seizures due to epilepsy, you’ve likely educated your family, friends and school staff on the importance of knowing how to treat your child in case of an episode. You’re not alone in ensuring your child has the proper care and support they need during a seizure. On July 12, Governor Pritzker approved the Seizure Smart Act into law after being unanimously passed by the House and Senate, requiring schools to train staff members, teachers and bus drivers on seizure first aid. The program also requires the parent or guardian of a student with epilepsy to submit a seizure action plan to the school, providing the information needed for school staff to properly identify and treat seizures.

Most schools provide a seizure action plan form to be filled out by you and your child’s physician. The action plan should include what type of seizure your child may have, how to treat them and any other necessary information in order to assist and care for your child in the event of a seizure.

Seizures can look very different depending on the type of seizure and its severity. Seizures are often mistaken for a behavioral disorder, further emphasizing the importance of an action plan in correctly identifying and aiding students during a seizure. If you know which type(s) of seizure your child has, you should include this in your action plan.

To help you prepare a successful action plan, Neurologist Mohammed Ghumra, MD outlines the different types of epileptic seizures and how each should be treated.  

Focal onset aware seizures

The focal onset aware seizure begins in one side of the brain and is one of the most common types of seizures for epileptic patients. During this type of seizure, your child is fully conscious, but may appear “frozen” and unable to respond for a matter of minutes. The person assisting your child should keep them away from objects that may cause harm, and stay by their side to keep them calm until the episode is over.

Focal onset impaired awareness seizures

Similar to the focal onset aware seizure, the focal onset impaired awareness seizure occurs in one side of the brain, leaving your child conscious but unresponsive. In addition to being unresponsive, your child might make large or small involuntary movements such as fumbling or head rolling. The person assisting your child should be directed to speak quietly, keep your child away from harmful objects and stay by his or her side until the seizure is over.

Absence seizures

This type of seizure begins in both sides of the brain and is often so brief that it goes unnoticed. If your child is experiencing an absence seizure, they may appear as if they’re “blanking-out” or experiencing an upward flutter of their eyelids. The most important direction for the person assisting your child during an absence seizure is to keep them away from harm.

Atonic and tonic seizures

Atonic and tonic seizures involve losing muscle control, which can cause your child to collapse. Tonic seizures cause muscles to stiffen, while atonic seizures cause muscles to become limp. There is often no time to prevent your child from hurting themselves while one of these seizures is occurring. If your child frequently experiences these types of seizures, they may need to wear protective headgear or take other preventive measures to minimize harm from falls while at school. While a teacher or other school personnel may not be able to stop your child’s fall, it is still important for them to be aware of this behavior. In the event of an atonic or tonic seizure, those assisting your child should stay by their side until confusion has subsided.

Bilateral tonic-clonic seizures

These seizures start in one part of the brain before spreading to both sides, causing the body to lose consciousness, fall, stiffen or jerk. During this type of seizure, your child will not be aware of their surroundings and may make forceful, dramatic movements. The person assisting your child should be directed to stay calm, keep them away from harmful objects and turn them on their side to make sure their airway is clear in the event their breathing becomes impaired due to the forceful movement during a bilateral tonic-clonic seizure.

In general, if your child is experiencing a seizure, the most important directions to provide in your action plan are to stay by the child’s side until the seizure ends, keep them away from harm and turn them onto their side if they are unconscious or unresponsive.

Your plan should also mention that an ambulance should be called if your child’s seizure lasts longer than five minutes, multiple seizures are occurring close together, breathing is difficult or if they have suffered injuries and are in need of medical attention. For more information on what to include in your child’s seizure action plan, you can schedule an appointment online with a DMG Neurologist or visit our Neurology page to learn more.

Visit the Illinois General Assembly to learn more about the Seizure Smart School Act.

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