In Canada, May marks MedicAlert month! From children with complex health conditions to seniors living with Alzheimer's, MedicAlert’s programs help people with chronic health conditions live their best lives.
MedicAlert’s new online resource, S.A.F.E. with MedicAlert, is a free resource that can assist school boards and schools in meeting some of the requirements outlined in School Board Policies on Prevalent Medical Conditions (Policy/Program Memorandum 161). The policy identifies four specific conditions that have the potential to lead to a medical incident or life-threatening medical emergency: anaphylaxis, asthma, diabetes, and epilepsy. This resource addresses topics to help establish a safe and inclusive learning environment within the classroom, and was developed in consultation with Ophea to support student learning connected to The Ontario Curriculum, Health and Physical Education, Grades 1-8 (2019).
S.A.F.E. with MedicAlert can help educators and school boards foster safe, accepting, and healthy learning environments by teaching students with and without prevalent medical conditions crucial skills like advocacy, transferable safety practices, and awareness of medical conditions that may affect students!
Epilepsy is one of the conditions identified in Policy/Program Memorandum 161: Supporting children and students with prevalent medical conditions in schools. Schools have a duty to support students living with these conditions in accessing school in a safe, accepting, and healthy learning environment that supports well-being, and to empower students, as confident and capable learners, to reach their full potential for self-management of their medical condition(s), according to their Plan of Care.
Supporting Students with Prevalent Medical Conditions in the Classroom: S’s Story
S is a student living with complex medical needs including epilepsy, a neurological disorder affecting 1 in every 100 Canadians1 characterized by repeated seizures of varying types and severity. Seizures occur when the brain produces abnormal electrical signals, which in turn affect how the body functions. While seizures can produce a wide range of symptoms, they can be grouped into two broad categories: generalized seizures (in which seizure activity occurs in both hemispheres of the brain); and focal seizures (in which seizure activity occurs in a localized area involving a single hemisphere of the brain).1 Some students with epilepsy, like S, have additional medical conditions that may require different methods of treatment and management in a classroom setting.
Symptoms of seizures vary but can range from temporary confusion to uncontrollable muscle spasms. Not all seizures involve a loss of consciousness, and most do not last longer than five minutes.2 Seizures are not always connected to epilepsy; they can be triggered by isolated incidents such as high fever, infection, toxic exposure, or hypoglycemia.1 While some people with epilepsy may be able to identify specific triggers for their seizures, they can still be unpredictable3, and it is important for the school community to understand how to respond to seizures.
Seizures can be really scary, even when you know what is happening. For folks that don't have experience with seizures, seeing a peer have one and not knowing what to do could leave peers feeling afraid and helpless. This could lead to stigma and alienation for the student with seizures. Epilepsy is more common than we think. Imagine if it could be normalized and everyone could be equipped to know how to help their peer/call for help during a seizure. How empowering and destigmatizing this would be!
- S’s parent/caregiver
With effective management, students with epilepsy can safely participate in most, if not all, classroom activities. Unfortunately, stigma and social anxiety are commonly associated with epilepsy3 and parents and caregivers may have additional concerns regarding the safety of their child4. Research shows that students who feel they have support from their classmates are more content in school4, and creating a shared sense of understanding regarding prevalent medical conditions like epilepsy can assist in establishing this sense of support within the classroom. When members of the school community are familiar with prevalent medical conditions, they are better equipped to respond to potential medical incidents.4 Ultimately, a classroom environment that understands and celebrates each student’s unique needs improves well-being for all!
Resources that allow everyone to understand different medical needs of their peers are an important step towards inclusiveness in the classroom. Instead of hiding S's g-tube feed, what if his peers knew and understood how it worked? This could be integrated into a lesson on healthy eating; how do kids with g-tubes eat, and why do they need to get their nutrients this way?
- S’s parent/caregiver
Fostering safe, inclusive environments for students with prevalent medical conditions creates a classroom where every student has the opportunity to experience feelings of belonging and well-being at school. S.A.F.E. with MedicAlert can help schools and school boards create these necessary spaces. The full resource is available now!
- Epilepsy Canada https://www.epilepsy.ca/what-is-epilepsy
- Canadian Paediatric Society https://caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/health-conditions-and-treatments/epilepsy-at-school
- Epilepsy Ontario https://www.dropbox.com/s/detxvn2ov1yd2m5/FAQ.pdf?dl=0
- AboutKidsHealth https://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/Article?contentid=2116&language=English&hub=epilepsy.