Awareness Never Ends

This post is part of the Epilepsy Blog Relay™, which will run from June 1 to June 30, 2018.  Follow along!


We sat at a large, round table in the special education classroom with half of us seated uncomfortably in child-sized plastic chairs. My wife, our advocate, and I sat on one end of the table. The district’s lawyer, psychologist and special education coordinator, the school’s principal and special education teacher, my son’s second-grade teacher, and his aide filled the remaining seats.

We were reviewing my son’s IEP that had just been approved. After two years of providing our own DIY education for our son under a makeshift 504 plan, we hired a lawyer to finally get my son a formalized education plan and the protection that it affords him. It was clear as we reviewed the supporting documentation that we needed that protection because the system is not set up for children like him. It was even more clear as we reviewed his test results that they didn’t really know my son.

They made comments about his learning without fully grasping how hard he works when he is outside their walls. They made judgments based on a few hours of testing and observation but they didn’t really understand him or what he was going through.

When the special education teacher said that she had other kids with epilepsy, I cringed. “I had another kid with epilepsy” is like saying I’ve seen one shade of blue. The spectrum of what epilepsy is to a person is as broad as the hues and tones that make up every color imaginable.

This wasn’t the first time that someone at my son’s school generalized epilepsy. The one-size-fits-all seizure plan hanging in the nurse’s office is another symptom of the lack of understanding around his condition. Sometimes, having a little knowledge and convincing yourself that you know everything about something is worse than having no knowledge at all. So we did what we always do and explained how epilepsy is different for everyone and how it affects our son specifically.

We know that won’t be the last time we need to provide that explanation because awareness never ends.

There will always be a new school year.

A new teacher.

A new aide.

A new babysitter.

A new parent.

A new doctor.

A new nurse.

A new coach.

A new team.

A new boss.

A new colleague.

A new friend.

Every time a new person comes into our lives, it is an opportunity to help them understand my son. It’s an opportunity to help them understand epilepsy from the perspective of a child and a family living it every day.

It is not always easy. It’s not easy to retell the story of how epilepsy tried to take our son. It’s not easy to describe how hard he has to work every day or to explain how epilepsy is more than just seizures. But every time we do it, we create understanding. It makes the world around my son a bit more accepting of him and his condition. And, I hope, it creates a bit more understanding in the world for other children like him.


NEXT UP: Be sure to check out the next post by Clair at http://www.epilepsybumps.com/.

TWITTER CHAT: Save the date for the  #LivingWellChat on June 30 at 7PM ET.

Part Of The Team

Spring is here, which means it’s time to hang up the skates and grab the bat and glove. This year, my son moved up from teeball, which I coached last year, to baseball. Since I’m not coaching this year, it meant having another conversation about epilepsy.

I still get nervous introducing people to my son’s condition. I try to strike the right balance between “he has a serious medical condition” and “everything is going to be fine.” It’s hard. Too much information can overwhelm even the most altruistic volunteer. But I’m not doing my job unless I am honest about all the potential challenges.

There are times when I wish that I could not say anything. I could hope for the best and let my son take part in an activity without a caveat. After all, he’s not likely to seize. And there are plenty of kids on the team that have a hard time listening or focusing. He could blend in.

That would be easier. The coaches wouldn’t have to be scared. I wouldn’t have to worry about him being treated differently. I wouldn’t have to face the reality of our situation. I wouldn’t have to make epilepsy a part of everything that we do.

But, the fact is, it is a part of everything we do. And it’s my job as a parent to do what is best for my son. I want to keep him safe but I also want him to enjoy the experience. The only way to do that is to have an open communication channel with the people in his life. We were told early on that we, the doctors, nurses, teachers, aides, babysitters…we are all a part of my son’s team. And like any good team, everyone needs to be informed so they can play their part.

When we talked to his coaches, they thanked us for telling them, then they asked what they could do to help. That night, they reached out to us again to let us know that they were happy he was on the team. To the father of a child with epilepsy, the best way to show that they were part of our team was to make him a part of theirs. They had done that with one phone call, and they continue to do it at every practice.

As anxious as I get about doing it, the more we have the conversation, the better we get at it. The better we get at it, the better people respond to it. And the better people respond to it, the less anxious I will hopefully be the next time. Which is good. Because it’s a conversation that isn’t going away.

Opening Up About My Son’s Hidden Epilepsy

This post is part of the Epilepsy Blog Relay™ which will run from March 1 through March 31. Follow along and add comments to posts that inspire you!

If you saw my son on the playground, you might not notice anything wrong with him. He’d be running, playing, and laughing alongside the other children. Epilepsy is a “hidden disability”. It can remain invisible, hiding its nature until a seizure reveals the cruel truth. For my son, his seizures occur in the early morning hours outside the view of the rest of the world. While there are traces of other symptoms of his condition, they, too, often go unnoticed. As a result, we control whether to expose his condition to the people around us.

There are times when it is easy to know that we should disclose his condition. At school, he is on a 504 plan so his epilepsy is well documented, and he has special accommodations during the day. His aide and his teacher have both come to understand him and are able to better adapt to his needs. While many of his classmates can’t grasp what they cannot see, we are as honest with them as we can be. It’s hard to not notice the aide, the breaks and the absences. Ignoring the reason for them would confuse his young class more.

Sometimes disclosing his epilepsy is a matter of safety. Before we signed him up for hockey, we asked if they were comfortable with a student that had epilepsy. On the first day of practice, we talked to the coach to remind him. When my son had a seizure on the ice, the coach was prepared and we spoke with him afterward, as well. It would have been unfair and irresponsible to hide my son’s epilepsy, even if he hadn’t had that seizure. It also could have easily traumatized his coaches. It’s bad enough seeing a seizure when you know one is possible. It’s another thing to be caught off guard.

As his father, I worry what the stigma of epilepsy will do to my son. Classmates made him feel different because his ketogenic lunch was strange. They weren’t trying to be mean, but it caused my son to hide his lunch for weeks. As he gets older, the comments may not be as innocent. My wife and I work hard to give him a good foundation of strong values and a deep sense of self-worth. I don’t want him to feel shame because he has epilepsy. But he’s my little boy, and knowing that he’ll face challenges because of his condition is hard. The idea that he’ll be stigmatized by others because of it is unbearable. That alone makes me want to protect him and never tell anyone about his epilepsy.

So I hide his struggle (and ours) from those around us. I don’t talk about his condition or volunteer any information for fear of judgment or pity. To the parents from his school and his hockey class, he’s another normal kid. To the people passing on the street and the people that see him on the playground, he blends in with everyone else. Some days, those moments feel like a gift that I don’t want to let go of.

It’s tempting to take the same approach in every situation. But epilepsy is such a big part of his life that people won’t know the real him with that piece missing. They won’t know how hard he works to function on a bad seizure day or to navigate the fog caused by his medicine. They won’t know that he has different limitations and abilities. They’ll never understand him without that piece of the puzzle and I want him to be understood. He is worth understanding.

Is it better to feel like everyone else when you know that you aren’t? Or is it better to always feel different but to always be yourself? Should the answer I’d give for myself be the same that I’d give for my 7-year-old son? These are the questions that I found myself asking as I tried to wrap up this post for epilepsy awareness. I struggled for a long time trying to come up with a concise answer, but I couldn’t. Because there is no answer. There is just doing the best that I can with what I am capable of doing and with my son always first on my mind.

NEXT UP: Be sure to check out the next post tomorrow from Audra Sisak at www.hislifewithautism.com for more on epilepsy awareness. For the full schedule of bloggers visit livingwellwithepilepsy.com. And don’t miss your chance to connect with bloggers on the #LivingWellChat on March 31 at 7PM ET.