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What is epilepsy? A disorder that makes people susceptible to seizures. There are many types of seizures:

Petit mal, also called absence seizures, occur when the person seems to 'zone out'. He or she has a blank stare, may blink rapidly, and is unaware of what is going on during the seizure. These are usually very short, only a few seconds.

Atonic seizures - there is a sudden loss of muscle tone, causing the person to fall to the ground. Sometimes it appears that he or she has fainted.

Grand Mal - this is the type of seizure most people associate with epilepsy. The person has convulsions that generally last for a few minutes.

The Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County provided this list of terms related to epilepsy. It describes several more types of seizures, disorders which include epilepsy as one of the symptoms and other, related information. They also give descriptions of seizure types, what they are, what they are not and what to do.

Epilepsy by itself may not be a developmental disability. However, many people with developmental disabilities also have epilepsy. While epilepsy occurs in only one in 100 people without disabilities, one in 10 people with mental retardation or cerebral palsy have epilepsy. HALF of people who have both mental retardation and cerebral palsy have epilepsy.

The Epilepsy Foundation website has a wealth of information. They also have chat rooms and discussions for adults, parents, teens, women and kids. This page from the Epilepsy Foundation provides first aid tips for when a person is having different types of seizures.

Dr. De Mars' recommendations, as a parent of a child with epilepsy.
There is a common myth that people having seizures may swallow their tongue and you may hear all kinds of advice about putting something in the person's mouth - anything from your fingers to a wallet. Don't do it. Don't put anything in a person's mouth. No one ever swallows their tongue during a seizure. If you put your fingers in the person's mouth, you may get severely bitten (my daughter would tell you that it serves you right - how would you like her to come along and put her fingers in your mouth?) If you use something like a pencil, it can break and injure the person.

If a person is having a seizure with convulsions (grand mal), move all hard or sharp objects to keep the person from hitting them. When my daughter has a seizure, if she is in bed, I simply pat her back and wait for it to be over. If she is anywhere else, I usually sit on the floor and put her head in my lap to keep her from hitting her head on the floor. Of course, I am her mother. I don't think she would much appreciate having a stranger put her head in his lap. (Maybe a really cute stranger.)

Do NOT try to hold the person still or restain him or her when having a seizure. People sometimes do this with the idea that it will prevent injury. It is much better to put something soft under the person's head, like a folded jacket or blanket, and clear the area around the person.

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