For elementary-grade children with epilepsy who are struggling at school or who learn differently than their peers, the SickKids Epilepsy Classroom offers a safe environment to better understand the impact of epilepsy on their development and to care for their unique special education and social-emotional needs. For children who attend the program, the Epilepsy Classroom becomes an important part of their epilepsy medical care.
Led by a multidisciplinary team of educators and health care providers, the classroom offers a dynamic style of instruction to foster academic progress and social-emotional development. The classroom’s specialized programs provide flexibly for each student’s learning style and needs.
A transformative learning environment for children with epilepsy
Many children living with epilepsy experience cognitive challenges such as inattention, slow processing speed, and difficulties with memory consolidation or recollection, making academic progress hard for them. For many reasons, including the unpredictability of their seizures, they often experience more worries or anxiety than other children their age and may have trouble forming good friendships.
The Epilepsy Classroom addresses these key challenges by providing specialized instruction and interventions which are scientifically validated or informed. Our dynamic teaching style provides the necessary special education and social-emotional support for children with epilepsy to learn and thrive.
Special education supports
- A small class placement of 3:8 staff-to-student ratio,
- Development and implementation of an Individual Education Plan (IEP),
- “Direct Instruction” of core academics (literacy and numeracy), and
- Assistive technology (i.e., white board, individual laptop computers, and tablets).
- Group activities focused on living well with epilepsy, resilience, self-regulation, and social-skills, as well as
- Individual support with a social worker or child life specialist as needed.
Eligibility and enrollment
To enroll your child in the Epilepsy Classroom, you will need to complete and submit a referral form which you can download below. We accept referrals from parents, educators, neurologists, and family doctors. Students in grades 2 through 8 from across the GTA may attend; however, no more than four consecutive grades are accepted in any one year. Each year, enrollment is limited to eight students.
Once a referral is received, we will arrange a parent intake interview with Dr. Elizabeth Kerr and Ms. Heather Olivieri who will gather additional information about your child’s medical and developmental history along with your interest in the program.
If your child has not received a recent psychoeducational or neuropsychological assessment, a psychoeducational assessment will be completed to determine eligibility for placement. The assessment results are also used for program planning.
The main instructional model in our classroom is Direct Instruction (DI).
DI is a highly interactive, teacher-directed approach to learning. Lessons are highly structured and scripted, covering the most important issues on a topic – this allows us to teach more of the curriculum in a shorter amount of time. How we teach supports some of the key processing issues that many children with epilepsy experience – namely poor attention, slow processing of information, and weak consolidation or retrieval of information (memory).
General research shows that DI has a high success rate in helping struggling students. SickKids research demonstrates that it is especially effective for children with active epilepsy.
Programs include Corrective Reading, Reading Mastery, Empower™ Reading Program, Spelling Mastery, Reasoning and Writing, Saxon Math (K-4), and Connecting Math Concepts.
Living with Epilepsy is a psychoeducational group that provides students the chance to learn about seizures, share their experiences with each other, talk about the impact that epilepsy has on their life, and learn to self-advocate around epilepsy.
Superflex® is a motivating social and communication skills program. The cognitive behavioural curriculum helps students develop further awareness of their own thinking and social behaviours, and learn strategies to help them develop better self-regulation across a range of behaviours.
MindUp™ is a research-based curriculum which incorporates neuroscience, positive psychology, social-emotional learning, mindfulness, and teaching strategies to promote self-regulation, resilience, and optimism.
Child Life incorporates a variety of activities to support students in gaining a sense of mastery, self-expression, learning, and peer interaction, as well as promote optimal development.
Other epilepsy education programming includes field trips, taekwondo, yoga, Kids Science, and music.
Epilepsy Classroom students are guided by a multi-disciplinary team of educators and health-care providers that cover individualized assessments, education, social and emotional support, and wrap-around care for each and every child.
A special education teacher and educational assistant from the Toronto District School Board, as well as an academic and treatment assistant from SickKids, are in the classroom daily providing academic instruction in a 3:8 staff-to-student ratio.
A neuropsychologist and social worker are involved with the classroom during the week; a child life specialist is involved bi-weekly. Consultant staff can also include a developmental paediatrician, nurse practitioner, neurologist, and/or psychiatrist.
Dr. Elizabeth Kerr
Dr. Elizabeth Kerr, a Clinical Neuropsychologist and Health Psychologist with Comprehensive Epilepsy Program, is the Program Director. She conducts neuropsychological assessments with each student attending the classroom and leads some of the social-emotional group programming.
Heather Olivieri, a Social Worker with the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program, provides individual and family counselling to students as needed and leads some of the social-emotional group programming.
Alex Ohliger is a Child Life Specialist who offers social-emotional group programming on a bi-weekly basis and may support individual children who are undergoing medical procedures for epilepsy.
Cheryl Macri is an Academic and Treatment Assistant who is in the classroom daily. Working with the teaching staff and team of health-care providers, she responds to students’ immediate medical needs. She also leads the social thinking program used in the classroom.
- A psychoeducational or neuropsychological assessment is completed with each child to better understand his or her learning, social-emotional style, and needs in order provide appropriate epilepsy resources and programming.
- Some children may also be seen by a Developmental Paediatrican to further assess language, social communication and interaction skills, and attention if needed. Other consult staff include a nurse practitioner, neurologist, and psychiatrist.
- Academic achievement is formally assessed several times throughout the year.
- Our team keeps track of seizure activity as well as responses to changes in anticonvulsant medications or trials of medications for ADHD.
- A portal EEG may be ordered in order to better understand the association of a child’s seizure activity and his or her learning and behaviour.
- The class staff-to-student ratio is 3:8.
- An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is developed and implemented.
- Academic Instruction commences at each student's’ functional skills level and advances based on his or her success. Students are group based on ability level.
- Assistive technologies are provided; each student is assigned a laptop computer and tablet for the year and taught assistive programs to support his or her needs.
- Individual support with our social worker or child life specialist can be arranged based on the interests of each child.
- In addition to educational staff who have worked with children with epilepsy for many years, the Classroom is supported by a Child-Life Specialist, Health Psychologist, and Social Worker.
- Group programming focusing on epilepsy education, social skills development, and social-emotional well-being is offered on a weekly basis.
- Individual counselling with our Social Worker is offered to those children who would benefit from the support.
- Our Child Life Specialist may work with children who undergoing medical procedures.
- Our Social Worker also works with parents, as needed.
- We want to better understand the cognitive and social-emotional consequences of epilepsy for an individual child and the types of strategies that effectively support his or her development.
- During the course of the academic year, our team works with parents to share information about their child.
- At the end of the year, a transition meeting is held with the parents of each child, our team, and the receiving school on supporting the child to develop to the best of his or her ability.
The classroom is located at SickKids, and operates on a regular school schedule from September through June. Most students attend one year and then transition back to their home school or alternative program within their school board.
The Epilepsy Classroom is not able to accept children who require one-on-one assistance, have significant behavioural issues (other than inattention and impulsivity), meet criteria of a developmental or intellectual disability, or have severe autism. These children are best served through other programs within their school board.
The Epilepsy Classroom is an Education and Community Partnership Program (ECPP) with the Ontario Ministry of Education. It is a partnership between the Garry Hurvitz Centre for Brain and Mental Health at SickKids and the Toronto District School Board. The classroom is reviewed by the Ontario Ministry of Education every three years.
Dr. Kerr is a Project Investigator with the Research Institute. The classroom aids SickKids research related to epilepsy in children by better understanding their experience, as well as their academic and social outcomes, following their involvement in the classroom. With parental and child consent, information obtained from parents and child questionnaires will be anonymously entered into a database so that we can address these issues and improve epilepsy education once we have a larger number of participants.
Have a question? Get in touch with Dr. Elizabeth Kerr, Program Director, Clinical Neuropsychologist and Health Psychologist.