From: Dr. Chun Wong
Epilepsy is defined by the Epilepsy Foundation as ” a medical condition that produces seizures affecting a variety of mental and physical functions”.
Children and adults are diagnosed as epileptic when they have suffered two or more seizures. Epilepsy and seizures are linked to many disorders, including autism spectrum disorders, and research suggests that somewhere between 20% and 35% of people with autism also suffer from seizures, and this can be a real worry for parents whose child has just been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
The Autism-Epilepsy Link
It is not known what the exact link is between autism and epilepsy, or seizures, but a study called “Autism and Epilepsy: Cause, consequence, comorbidity, or coincidence?” by Gabis, Pomeroy and Andriola in 2005, concluded that abnormal electroencephalograms (EEG scan of the brain) and epilepsy tended to occur at significantly higher rates in children with more severe autism, those who were in the more impaired range of the autism spectrum.
Another study, “An Investigation of Sleep Characteristics, EEG Abnormalities and Epilepsy in Developmentally Regressed and Non-regressed Children with Autism”, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, concluded that abnormal EEGs and epilepsy were more common in children with regressive autism, rather than those who had shown symptoms from birth. Regressive autism is autism that occurs at around the age of 18 months after a child has been developing normally. All of a sudden the child regresses, losing skills like speech and other skills previously learned.
Parents should not assume that a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder means that a child will suffer with seizures because most autistic children do not have seizures. Those who are at a higher risk of seizures are children who have neurological conditions like tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis or phenylketonuria that has been left untreated, or those with major cognitive impairment. Children who have suffered with infantile spasms, which are pronounced muscle contractions between the ages of 3 and 8 months, are also more at risk from autism combined with epilepsy.
The onset of puberty can lead to an increase in seizures, with 25% of autism children suffering from seizures at this point in their lives. However, sometimes the seizures are so mild that they can go unnoticed. It is thought that seizures in puberty are caused by the effect of hormones on the child’s brain.
Seizures and Treatment
Seizures can vary from obvious serious convulsions to absence seizures ( a loss of consciousness) or “subclinical” (mild) seizures which cannot be differentiated from behavior problems like sudden tantrums, violent behavior and self-injurious behavior. Mild seizures can also appear as sudden regressions in cognitive development, behavior and academic performance, so it is important to get these types of regression or problem behavior checked out with an EEG scan.
If an EEG scan confirms a seizure has taken place, anti-spasmodic or anti-convulsant drugs will probably be prescribed to manage and control the seizures. Some therapists or doctors will also treat seizures in autism with Vitamin B6 with DMG (dimethylglycine) or magnesium, which studies have been shown to be effective in treating seizures.
If you suspect that your child has had a seizure, or they have displayed sudden regression, it is important that you get them checked out by your doctor or pediatrician because seizures need to be treated.