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Seeing a seizure no matter how many times they occur and no matter the age of the bystander, can be extremely traumatic depending on the type of seizure a person may be experiencing. It is a delicate situation to tend to the person who is experiencing the epileptic event as well as comfort those who are witnessing everything unfold, especially when there are children involved. As a parent, when you have a child with epilepsy who has young siblings you have to be very creative in how you handle all things related to seizures. This includes conversations regarding seizures as well as when/if it comes to watching the episodes themselves.
Being that Sonya began having seizures within one month of her life, they were less noticeable to others, however, Sonya is 5 years, 3.5 years, and 21 months younger than her older siblings, which means they were extremely young the first time they were exposed to seeing a seizure. At the beginning they honestly did not notice one was occurring, but eventually as the seizures got longer and more intense, her siblings became more aware. As parents, Sam and I did not want to scare our older children, but it was important they be aware of what a seizure looked like so if necessary they could inform us if they saw it occurring first. For example, Sonya's car seat faced our then 5-year-olds and so while driving she would occasionally tell us "Sonzee is having a seizure". There have been false reports, however, more often than not, the reporting is accurate and a huge help in beginning to comfort Sonya, both verbally, and for her sister who sits right beside her, physically.
There have been times when the seizures are just too overwhelming for us to want our older children to be around, regardless of how helpful they can be, and so we have to be creative in how we distract them. Sonya went through a time when she required oxygen during the end of her seizures and for some time following the episode. When she would begin her seizure typically another person (unless we were alone) would go and grab her oxygen and begin too hook it up to her. For the majority of the time we were able to distract our older children by having them go and play in another room or go have a dance party, but once or twice our oldest would stop in her tracks and look at us placing the oxygen cannula on Sonya and ask if she was going to be alright. We could tell she was scared and so we explained that Sonya was having a seizure and it was alright, but that sometimes extra air is needed to help people breathe.
Children in general can "make light" of many situations, and this includes seizures. They can see someone making funny, weird, awkward, dramatic, and fast movements with their bodies and can think this is something to imitate. At a young age it was extremely important for us to emphasize to our children that seizures are never anything to be made fun of and what is occurring to a person who having one is not pleasant, is not funny, is not weird, is not comfortable, and is by no means a joke. It is also extremely important to balance sharing this information with young children in a manner that does not scare them, but does emphasize this is a high magnitude situation that should never involve laughing.
While Sam nor I are perfect in the ways we have chosen to be creative with our older children in regards to educating them on seizures, here are some ways we found helpful with our older children and their exposure to epilepsy. We are not expressing that every parent should follow these ideas nor is every parent going to want their child to see a seizure, however in a lot of family situations it is simply impossible to prevent a child from witnessing a seizure, so it is always better to be as prepared as possible.
1. Talk and explain to a child who is watching the seizure what is happening to the person experiencing a seizure-reassure them that even though it looks extremely scary the person is going to be alright
2. Answer questions that a child may ask regarding watching the seizure
3. In general keep the lines of communication open between the child watching the seizure and the adult supervising
4. Be aware of the child who is watching a person have a seizure-are they are uncomfortable? are they scared? do they need to be distracted?
5. If another adult is present have them take other children in another room in a calm manner asking them to show them where an item is, or to go read a book, or have a dance party
6. Have older children help time a seizure or feel like they are helping you or the person having a seizure
7. The priority is on the person seizing, however, if seizures are routine and the person is stable, make sure to remain calm (always good regardless) and try not to scare the other children who are around
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