Schools seize opportunity to help


Manual aids teachers of students with epilepsy

Valerie Smith and son Kaleb, 4

At the height of 4-year-old Kaleb Smith's bouts with "drop attack" seizures, he was hitting the floor up to 80 times a day.

"He fell, hit the woodworking table, and hit his teeth," says Kaleb's mother, Valerie, about one of her son's epilepsy attacks.

Although Kaleb now receives excellent care at the Barbara Vick Early Childhood and Family Center preschool on the Southeast Side, Smith is concerned Kaleb might not receive such comprehensive care in public school when he attends the Medgar Evers Elementary School.

To help teachers and administrators deal with students with epilepsy, Chicago Public Schools and Children's Memorial Hospital developed "Seizure Management: A Handbook for Schools." The manual contains general information about epilepsy, what causes the seizures, treatments and tips for communicating with students about the disease.

Officials at Chicago schools say they have about 1,200 students who suffer from epilepsy, although Dr. Doug Nordli, medical director of the Epilepsy Center at Children's, estimates the number may be as high as 10,000.

"We know of many more children whose parents don't alert the school because of repercussions," he says. "[They're afraid] people might treat the child differently."

"It will create more awareness and eliminate misconceptions," says Myrna Pineda-Garcia, director of student health services with the Chicago Public Schools. "Principals and school staff are scared of having students with seizures in regular classes."

Mary McAloon, coordinator for children with disabilities at the Chicago schools, says, "Almost daily we get calls to take [epileptic] kids out [of class]."

Children's Memorial trains Chicago's teachers and personnel about epilepsy, Nordli says and he wants to see similar programs expand across the country.

The hospital raised $65,000 to publish 2,000 manuals, which will be distributed to principals and nurses at all Chicago public schools and any suburban schools requesting it. Call Robert Blanfuss at (773) 880-6378.

McAloon says students with epilepsy deserve the same access to education as their peers. "Children with seizures are like children with any other medical condition. It's good for their self-esteem to be part of the mainstream."

"I'm really excited [about the program]," Valerie Smith says. "It helps to be more educated about the process."


Alice Chang, Medill News Service

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