May We Introduce You To: Lisa Peterson, Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota

by Lee Gehrls R&D Coordinator (Volunteer)

I want to thank Lisa Peterson, who is the Regional Outreach Manager in Northeast/Central Minnesota for the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota, for taking the time to answer important questions on the co-occurring disorders of epilepsy and ADHD. It is important for all of us to understand the multiple ways ADHD can present with other conditions in order to have a better understanding of our ADHD community and other special medical communities.

Interview with Lisa Peterson & Lee Gehrls

Lee: Hi Lisa, it’s good to visit with you again. Let’s start with having you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how you came to be the Regional Outreach Manager for EFMN.

Lisa: I have been on staff at the EFMN for 9 years. I am a former classroom teacher with experience teaching in various grades including the college level. I initially came to the EFMN in 2008 as a volunteer during my time as a classroom teacher. My passion for this work stems from my personal journey of living with epilepsy from infancy into my young adult years before becoming seizure-free after having a successful right front temporal lobectomy on 09.27.2002. I recently reached my 20th anniversary of successful brain surgery, and I am grateful for the opportunity to help bring greater awareness and understanding of epilepsy to the community. I am also a founding member of ConnectSPED – a parent-led group in the School District of Superior that exists to unite, support, and educate families about Special Education. All three of my children have Tourette Syndrome with comorbid conditions including ADHD and anxiety. 

Lee: What are the correct terms we should be using today? Is it epilepsy or seizure disorders?  

Lisa: Epilepsy is a neurological (brain) condition that causes people to have recurring seizures and is typically diagnosed after two or more unprovoked seizures. Epilepsy is sometimes referred to as a seizure disorder.  

Lee: How common is epilepsy and what do seizures typically look like? 

Lisa: 1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy at some point in their lifetime, it can start at any age, there are over 40 types of seizures, and our training options cover how to recognize and respond to the four most common types of seizures.  Although most people think of a seizure as someone falling to the ground and convulsing, the generalized tonic-clonic seizure is not the most common type.

Absence seizures, often mistaken for ADHD, involve staring off and an inability to respond, and may include eye blinking, heavy breathing, or chewing motions.

During a focal aware seizure, the person is conscious, and it might include involuntary movement in one arm, leg, or face. However, a focal aware seizure sometimes known as an aura may present as a change in sensations which could be a burning smell, metallic taste, ringing sounds, lights flashing in the peripheral, or a feeling of panic, deja vu, or unreality.

During a focal impaired awareness seizure, the person looks awake but is unaware of what they are saying or doing which may lead to mistaking the seizure for being drunk or on drugs. The person having a focal impaired awareness seizure may wander, do repeated purposeless movements like hand wringing, eye blinking, or lip smacking, say or do things that they won’t remember after the seizure, and they may appear combative if someone gets in their space.

It’s important to realize that all seizures happen from an electrical misfiring in the brain, and how it looks will depend on what part(s) of the brain is involved with the seizure.  

Lee: We know that it is important that good evaluations be done for seizure disorders and ADHD by trained professionals. Would you tell our readers about options for comprehensive epilepsy care in Minnesota and about the programs and services EFMN provides?

Lisa: The EFMN provides free one-on-one customized support to help navigate their epilepsy diagnosis through phone calls, video conferences, and in-person meetings. The EFMN does not endorse or recommend any particular treatment options, facilities, or programs nor does it dispense legal or medical advice; our goal is to provide resources and information to help inform decisions.  

*A comprehensive epilepsy center is a specialty clinic for the treatment of epilepsy and related conditions. It provides a comprehensive approach to treatment, and will often have epileptologists, psychologists, neuropsychologists, neurosurgeons, social workers, and other staff who work as a team.

Centers offer advanced testing and treatment options that may not be available at a general neurology clinic.  A comprehensive epilepsy center is recommended for those who are continuing to have seizures after more than a year of treatment, have tried and failed two or more medications, are experiencing unacceptable side effects, or have coexisting conditions like autism, ADHD, mental health concerns, or pregnancy.*


Lee: I know you do a lot of training when you are in our area. What type of training do you offer and who can participate? 

Lisa: EFMN Seizure Smart training teaches basic seizure recognition and response and addresses the common myths and misconceptions surrounding epilepsy. Seizure training options are available at no cost to all types of organizations and can be tailored for specific audiences such as school personnel, first responders, healthcare professionals, mental health providers, caregivers at senior serving or group home facilities, service groups, places of employment, and more.

We also offer age-appropriate student education that can be done with a classroom, grade level, or large group assembly.  Anyone can access education through on-demand options at or request virtual, live, or in-person training from the website or by reaching out to me directly at 218.624.1330 or  

Lee: Many families often feel isolated when dealing with either one of these conditions. I would think that is especially true for families who have both seizure disorders and ADHD. Would you explain how EFMN provides outreach services and activities for families and why this is so important?

Lisa: EFMN provides in-person and virtual opportunities to connect with other individuals and families who are impacted by epilepsy which helps people know that they are not alone in their journey. We have a variety of monthly connect groups for specific audiences including teens, young adults, adults, parents with epilepsy, parents/caregivers of a child with epilepsy, rare epilepsy, and the loss of a loved one.

In addition, we can create a customized connect group for those with a common experience, and I have previously set up a customized connect group for those who have a child with autism and/or ADHD in addition to epilepsy. We have in-person social events across the state throughout the year and upcoming events can be found on the EFMN online calendar at  

Lee: Lisa as we close, what should readers know about living with epilepsy and ADHD? 

Lisa:  †ADHD is the most common co-occurring disorder in children with epilepsy. Symptoms of ADHD may complicate the diagnosis of epilepsy, as they may be mistaken for seizures. Treating someone with both epilepsy and ADHD can be challenging. Some seizure medicines can make ADHD symptoms worse. Some people are concerned that stimulant medication, often used to treat ADHD, can trigger seizures.

A review of research on ADHD in people with epilepsy showed that stimulant medications can effectively treat symptoms of ADHD, but the medicine’s effect may be lower than what is seen in children with ADHD without epilepsy. The risk of increased seizure frequency appears to be minimal with stimulant treatment.

However, people should be warned of the possible risks and closely monitored for increased seizures. When people have both ADHD and epilepsy, it’s critical to work with healthcare professionals knowledgeable about epilepsy, behavior, and thinking. A treatment plan that addresses both epilepsy and ADHD should be developed.†


Additional Resources

Disclaimer: A-D-A-M℠ provides information about Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in the form of resources, including articles, books, videos, and websites, as well as links to directories to help you find health professionals, services and facilities that provide services for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. This information and these directories are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by A-D-A-M℠; and to the best of A-D-A-M’s knowledge are true and accurate at the time of publication. A-D-A-M℠ makes no claim, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the contents found in this information and in these directories, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions. Although great care is given to the composition and contents provided, A-D-A-M℠ cannot guarantee the correctness of the nature and contents of the information. Any person or entity that relies on any information obtained through these resources does so at his or her own risk.