Did you know that 1 in 200 Australian school children have epilepsy? As the most common neurological diagnosis in children, it’s so important for schools to be aware of all that students with an epilepsy diagnosis are dealing with.

School Stream meets The Cheeky Neurons

Today, School Stream is proud to bring you a Q and A style feature with Jo Adams, a neuroscientist turned science communicator and founder of The Cheeky Neurons.  They are doing fantastic work with Epilepsy Australia in supporting schools to become Epilepsy Smart Schools. Jo is here to answer questions about epilepsy and share the resources that can support schools to support students.

We know you’re busy. Keep reading or Click here to book a visit from The Cheeky Neurons.

What is epilepsy?

“A basic description of epilepsy is that it is a neurological disorder, meaning it affects the brain, which involves seizures. Seizures are a symptom of the brain being unhappy, and that can happen for a variety of reasons and manifest in a variety of ways – there are over 40 different types of seizure recognised today.”

The lived experience of epilepsy is about more than seizures

“Epilepsy is so much more than seizures. A really important thing to acknowledge is that the lived experience of epilepsy goes beyond seizures. There is the anxiety about having a seizure at school or in public, and medication side-effects. These (side effects) can make kids feel drowsy and interfere with their ability to retain information and concentrate. There’s also the social stigma that can impact on the lives and education of children living with epilepsy, as well as their families.”

Why is there a social stigma around epilepsy?

“Epilepsy is one of the oldest medical diagnoses around – dating back literally thousands of years. Over the course of that long history, there have been lots of opportunities for misinformation and misunderstanding to spread. Also, the brain has something of an air of mystery about it, as neuroscience is a relatively young branch of biology that still doesn’t find its way into many classrooms.”

Evidence-based conversations are crucial to tackling the social stigma around epilepsy

“This lack of understanding about how the brain works leave neurological disorders open to stigma. The Cheeky Neurons and I operate on the basis that having open, evidence-based conversations about the brain, seizures and epilepsy is a first step towards addressing stigma. I don’t talk about seizures as if they are rare and scary but in the context of the fact that 1 in 10 people will have one at some stage in life. I often say that a seizure is the brain’s way of telling us it’s unhappy in the same way a cramp is a muscle telling us it’s unhappy.”

The Cheeky Neurons school visits are inclusive, interactive, fun and informative

“I like to engender a sense of inclusiveness at the start of my programs by asking students to put up their hands if they have a brain. It gives participants an immediate awareness of how the session is applicable to them personally. Taking ownership of the information means it is more likely to stick, leaving less room for misinformation and associated stigma.  We use a combination of theory, animations, games and craft to create awareness about brains, seizures and epilepsy. Generally, when we visit a school we will do a few in-class sessions with classes that have a specific need for awareness, usually because a student in that class or year-level is affected by epilepsy (either directly or indirectly). We also share information with the school community through their website, newsletters and assemblies so that the whole community has an understanding of the brain and epilepsy, and most importantly that these are things we should all be able to talk about.”

How does your program tie in with the national Epilepsy Smart Schools program?

“There are three steps to becoming a nationally recognised Epilepsy Smart School:

  1. Schools need to hold specific Epilepsy Management Plans (EMPs) for each student living with epilepsy. This is something most schools already do.
  2. Staff participate in epilepsy-specific training so they have an understanding of the psychological, social and cognitive impact of living with epilepsy. This ensures schools meet the expectations of the Disability Standards for Education 2005.
  3. Host an event at the school that promotes better awareness and understanding of epilepsy in the school community – such as a visit from The Cheeky Neurons!

Once qualified, Epilepsy Smart Schools are registered through their state-based Epilepsy Australia branch and have the opportunity to be featured in the upcoming Epilepsy Smart School Hall of Fame.

During times of transition such as starting school or moving schools, families can contact their state organisation for help in finding a school community that will be a good fit for them.”

Book a visit from The Cheeky Neurons

The Cheeky Neurons are proud to work with Epilepsy Australia to spread awareness and work towards a nation of Epilepsy Smart Schools.  During 2019–2020, The Cheeky Neurons will be working with state-based members of Epilepsy Australia to visit schools around the nation. To register your interest in hosting The Cheeky Neurons and becoming an Epilepsy Smart School visit www.epilepsysmartschools.org.au

A big thank you to Jo for sharing her expertise and insights with us. You can learn more about The Cheeky Neurons by visiting their website.

As always, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us or connect with us on either Twitter or Facebook.

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