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.

Moving To Australia

Before my son was born, my wife and I talked about moving to Australia. It wasn’t because we were having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It was because we had been there on our honeymoon and we loved the experience. The idea of packing up and living on the other side of the world seemed like an amazing adventure.

In a way, it’s the same reason we moved to Philadelphia. While it wasn’t on the other side of the world, it might as well have been. Moving from the suburbs to the city. From the Colorado laid-back mentality to the always-moving city. The people and culture are as different as if we had moved to another planet.

At the time, the logistics of moving were easier. I already had a job, so we only needed to pack and find a place to live. Everything else we could figure out as we got more familiar with our surroundings. But we landed in Philadelphia right before my son’s seizures started. After that, the idea of moving became a lot more complicated.

It’s no longer a simple matter of packing up and finding a place to live. “Everywhere” is no longer the list of possible destinations. Our mindset needed to shift from aspirational to practical. The nature and complexity of my son’s condition mandated more specific requirements.

We would have to research the hospitals in the area to get a feel for their ability to support my son. How good is the medical care? Do they have the testing equipment on site, like a video EEG, or would we have to travel to another hospital? How easy is it to get in to see our neurologist?

We also have to do more research on the schools. In the past, we would have asked about class sizes and the quality of the education. Now, we would need to ask more targeted questions. Can they accommodate my son’s special needs? Can he get a one-on-one aide? Is the nurse familiar with seizures and epilepsy? Will the integrate him or isolate him?

Many of the answers to these questions would remove cities from our list of potential new homes. And there are many more questions to ask, each one shortening the list.

In many ways, epilepsy has taken away choices. Where we can live is one area, but there are so many. It also forces restrictions on what job I can take, what activities my son can do, even what he can eat. I assumed that we could build our lives by picking pieces from an unlimited list of options. But instead of the full buffet, we’re limited to the salad bar.

It would be easy to be resentful. It would be easy to see these limitations that epilepsy has imposed on us make and feel like victims. It would be easy to see only loss. Loss of freedom. Loss of choice. Loss of potential. But being where we’ve been, I’m grateful for where we are. I don’t resent what we don’t have or where we can’t go because I know how special what we do have is.

I still like the idea of an adventure. I still think about moving to Australia. Maybe some day, if we can get my son’s epilepsy under control, we’ll be able to move to have that adventure. Until then, we are exactly where we need to be. The dream of living in another part of the world might seem far away. But the reality is that our journey so far has brought us closer together.

Why Graduating Kindergarten Is A Big Deal

Last week, my son finished kindergarten.

epilepsy dad graduation kindergarten

A few years ago, I would have let that moment slip by. Honestly, moving on to first grade is pretty automatic and it would have been a normal right-of-passage, like losing a tooth. My wife would have handled the celebration, and I would have smiled and congratulated him while making snarky comments like “it’s just kindergarten” to my wife as she unsuccessfully tried to show me that every moment is important.

When that day finally came, I didn’t need my wife’s convincing. When I walked in the door after work, he ran to me and told me in a big, proud voice, “I finished kindergarten! I’m in first grade now!”. My eyes welled up with tears as I knelt to hug him and told him how proud I was of him for working so hard. “You did it, buddy”, I told him over and over as he squeezed his hug tighter and tighter.

He looked proud of himself, too. Rightfully so. He missed most of preschool due to seizures, side effects, and hospital stays. In the weeks leading up to the start of kindergarten, we weren’t even sure he would be able to go at all. His seizures were still not under control, we were still adjusting medicines, he was still adjusting to the ketogenic diet, and his behavior and attention issues were at their height. Dropping him in to a public school kindergarten with 28 other kids seemed like a terrible idea and one that could do more harm than good.

But we scrambled to get him registered, and to see what services would be available to help him. Technically, none, we learned. I felt like his epilepsy and related complications had come at an inconvenient time, too late for us to get him established as a special needs student and, therefore, not eligible for assistance. I remember thinking “Well, I’d prefer for him to not have epilepsy at all, but I’m sorry that he didn’t get out of the hospital sooner so we could fill out the paperwork.”

It was an unbelievably frustrating process, but we did get him registered and, although the special needs paperwork wasn’t completed, the principal assigned a school resource to act as an aide to my son for the few hours a day that he was physically capable of being there. Until the aide started, my wife was allowed to sit in the classroom with my son, so we had a plan for him to start kindergarten on the first day of school, although with a later start time to allow him to have enough rest to make it through the morning.

As a sign of things to come, on the first day of school, my son woke up early, dressed, at breakfast, and walked to school to start at the same time as his classmates. Of course, he had a seizure getting ready, but he didn’t let that stop him and he found the strength to push through.

He did that all year long.

When his body or mind was fatigued, when he couldn’t find words, or string together a simple sequence of events. When he couldn’t focus on a single task, or stop his body from shaking, or keep his anger and emotions under control. When he felt embarrassed about his special diet and watched the other kids eat whatever they wanted. When he missed chunks of time for therapy, or hospital visits. When he’d go home, exhausted, and sleep for hours, and then wake up and finish his homework and read and just try to keep up. Through all of that, my son woke up, almost every day, ready to put himself through it again.

My son had to work really hard to get to that day, and it was a really, really big deal.

I couldn’t be more proud.