Smiles and pride as students in epilepsy classroom graduate

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Graduation day is exciting for most kids. But for a unique group at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, their graduation ceremony this Wednesday was particularly important. The kids, ages six to 11, all have epilepsy, and spent this school year in a program specially designed to help them understand the disorder.

“You can learn how other people learn, just in a different way,” says 10-year-old graduate India Owers-Graham.

India gained a renewed sense of confidence, her parents say.

“In her regular school they really did do as much as they could with the resources they had, but it didn’t prevent her from being bullied, it didn’t prevent her from not having any friends,” her mother, Alison Owers-Graham, told CBC.

She says the program taught the whole family how to adapt to India’s epilepsy more effectively.

India Owers-Graham

India Owers-Graham’s parents say she progressed both academically and socially in the epilepsy classroom. (CBC)

“I would ask India to get ready, put on your boots, put on your coat, put on your backpack, let’s go. [But] you can’t do that with somebody who suffers from epilepsy — at least with India’s type of epilepsy. You have to take a moment and step back, and give her instructions one at a time. Not only are they teaching her, they taught us.”

Sick Kids is one of the few places in the world to offer this kind of program, which “is dedicated to children who have ongoing seizures or who have gone through brain surgery for epilepsy, and have associated difficulties in terms of their cognitive development or their social-emotional wellbeing,” says clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Elizabeth Kerr.

Class size is limited to six to eight children each year. Students are taught the regular Toronto District School Board curriculum, and also learn about how epilepsy affects the brain. Kerr works with a social worker, a developmental pediatrician, consultant neurologists, a nurse practitioner and volunteers to assess each child individually.

During epileptic seizures, people experience a sudden surge in brain activity. It manifests differently in different individuals: some may stare blankly while others tense up, make jerky movements or lose consciousness. Generally, seizures are temporary and do not damage the brain.

When the graduates of the Sick Kids program hit the books in September, many will be back at their regular schools, aided by a new sense of self and some extra skills to keep this week’s excitement going.

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Smiles and pride as students in epilepsy classroom graduate

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