Epilepsy and Autism: What You Need To Know

Studies show that epilepsy are more common in individuals with autism than the general population. Studies show that in some cases, 20% of people diagnosed with autism also have an epilepsy disorder. Other studies indicate epilepsy prevalence estimates between 5% to 46%.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts social, speech, behavioral and motor skills. It is a spectrum disorder meaning it varies from person to person. No two people have the same symptoms. It is estimated that 1% of the population is diagnosed with autism.

Epilepsy is a brain disorder which occurs when neurons in the brain experience a brief interruption causing a seizure to occur. Seizures vary from mild to severe and affects over 3 million Americans. There are different types of seizures:

  • Generalized Tonic/Clonic- A seizures where the whole brain is affected.
  • Absence Seizures- Generally start without any warnings. It affects children and last only for a few seconds.
  • Myoclonic Seizures- Are abrupt jerks of the muscle groups which originate from the spine.
  • Partial Seizures- The person may look as though he or she is in a trance.

There are many unanswered questions as to why epilepsy is more common in people with autism. There is some evidence the common underlying cause may be both are related to genetic and environmental causes and are both related to some type of brain disorder. Evidence does shoe however individuals with autism and epilepsy have worse behavioral and social outcomes than individuals diagnosed with autism only including issues with motor and daily living skills.

Signs for parents to look out for
  • May be difficult to determine especially in children diagnosed with severe autism spectrum disorder. Red flags include, staring episodes, stiffening of the body and shaking movements.
  • A medical evaluation will include brain imaging and an electroencephalogram (EEG).
Teaching Strategies

If you are an educator, be aware that after a seizure, the student will become tired. Allow the student an opportunity to rest.

Reference

Epilepsy Foundation

Medical News Today: Epilepsy and autism: Is there a link?

Neurologist Disorder Treatment. Epilepsy in patients with autism: Links, risks and treatment challenges. Frank McBesag- Published online 2017 Dec 18

Synapse- Autistic Spectrum Disorder Factsheet

 

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