Department of Neurology

Teachers with epilepsy

Q: I have a friend who has epilepsy. She has partial complex seizures . She would like to become a teacher, but is unable to pass her student teaching . Her coorperating teachers will not pass her, because they feel that her illness will be a threat to the safety of the students. I am a teacher and she is helping me with my fourth grade students in my classroom. She is doing an excellent job.

Do you know of any people with epilepsy who are classroom teachers?

Do you have any suggestions as to how my friend may achieve her goal of becoming an elementary classroom teacher?

A: The problem you describe may represent an age-old problem of discrimination against persons with epilepsy. I know of several fine teachers who have epilepsy, and it certainly has not endangered the safety of their students. If anything, I think it makes students more sensitive about a common illness.

The Americans with Disabilities Act specifically protects individuals like your friend, since employers may not discriminate against persons with disabilities so long as it does not interfere with their ability to perform their duties.

I think the most rational approach is to suggest that they invite their local Epilepsy Foundation of America affiliate to present an inservice about epilepsy. Very often the situation will resolve once the misunderstandings and misconceptions about epilepsy are clarified and staff are educated about seizure first-aid.

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