What teachers NEED to know when dealing with a special needs child….

I got an email from a University student who is studying to become a teacher. She asked me what she might need to know when dealing with a special needs child in the classroom.


I had to post this, because I think it will really help many people. This is all from my experience in school with Adam.

I have met some really crappy teachers so I have lots to say on the subject. Most teachers have to desire to understand special needs kids. What you need to do is find the RIGHT teachers aide to work with your child. Get the same person each day – do not switch them. The child will bond with them and the teachers aide will get to know all their little “quirkes”.

Here goes:

  • Many kids with epilepsy suffer side effects of the medication. They can become dopey and lethargic. They may actually get quite tired and need a rest. Sometimes the side effects include confusion, inability to understand directions.
  • Many kids suffer short term memory problems or if they have absence seizures, do not get the instructions the first time, so need things to be repeated over and over
  • They may be clumpsy or uncoordinated
  • They may need extra quiet time
  • Many kids display obsessive complusive behavior
  • Some do not like loud noises and can become agitated by too much going on or get over stimulated
  • Some kids do not like humming noises (fluorescent lights or fish tanks)
  • Many kids fixate – they may like to do puzzles or draw. Let them do this as a reward.
  • Many of these kids have learning disabilities – whether a result of the seizures or the medication. They need to learn at their own pace and curriculum.

My son Adam had every one of these problems in the classroom.

I worked with the teachers aide and she knew that when Adam got agitated, it was time to try something new. She would take him for a walk. Sometimes he needed a little nap so a couch was brought into the classroom.

He did not work well with other kids, so was rewarded when he made an effort (he got to do a puzzle).

If his behaviour got out of control, they would distract him. He loved trains, so they would disctract him by getting a train to play with.

Adam also ate very slowly – give him extra time to eat.

In the classroom, every teacher should have a “Seizure management plan“. It is a specific plan that is written up explaining what kind of seizures the child has, what to expect, and what treatment is necessary. It also outlines all of the problems the teacher might experience such as the list above. There is usually a note from the doctor as well giving his opinion on the capabilities of the child.

We also had a notebook that the TA wrote in every single day telling me how Adam was that day. They also recorded any seiures they saw so I could use this when visiting the doctor. It was sent home and each night I would do the same – just a sentence or two of how he was in the evening. We called it our “communication book” and it helped us know what went on so we could talk to him about it, or make changes.

My advice is to try and get the child integrated as much as possible. Give them a “Buddy” that changes each week. The buddy will get to know them and accept them better by wanting to help them. The buddy will help him with a particular activity each day for a short while.

If they are tired or grumpy, give them a rest. They are usually easily upset and cannot cope well. When Adam was in grade 1 and 2, he was only able to attend school for 1 – 3 hours a day. If he was having a rough day, they would bring him home.

Remember, many kids have absence seisures (petite mal). They are very hard to recognize. I think of them as a light switch going on and off, on and off. The child “misses” the instruction and it may need to be repeated. Adam would have hundreds of these each day sometimes lasting 10 seconds, and sometimes lasting minutes at a time.

Watch for unusual behavior such as:

  • lip smacking
  • clothes picking

These are seizures. There are many different types of seizures that you may not even know is a seizure. Most of all remember that the child needs frequent breaks and rests if they seizure often.

Lastly, I did a podcast with the Executive Director of the local Epilepsy Society, where we talked about parents working with schools. It is full of great information:

All in all, patience and understanding. One of the biggest things I learned was to “pick your battles wisely!“. Use distraction and rewards often.

I hope this helps – print it out for your teacher!


Arlene Martell (Mom of Adam above)
Publisher, EpilepsyMoms.com

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About Arlene Martell

Arlene Martell is the publisher of EpilepsyMoms.com and the author of Getting Adam Back – A Mother's triumph over Epilepsy and Autism. She resides in a seaside suburb on Vancouver BC Canada with her husband James and their four children Adam, Justin, Shelby and Victoria.