Epilepsy & Autism

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Epilepsy

25 February 2009
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Rates of epilepsy among children and adults with autism may be higher than 30% compared with those who are neurotypical - for whom rates are 1%. It is difficult to know whether in individual instances there is a common basis for epilepsy and autism but it is accepted that children and adults who are not neurotypical or who have neurodevelopmental delay (NDD) may be at increased risk of developing seizures.

For most persons with autism and epilepsy no cause is identified for either condition. However, where there is an identified organic basis for seizures, such as brain injury, they can be symptomatic and more frequent and difficult to control. Seizures may also be strongly associated with perinatal and neonatal brain insult and inborn errors of metabolism. Genetic screening may be performed to identify disorders such as Fragile X which may underlie the neurological deficit in certain persons with autism and learning disability.

Distinguishing seizures from non-seizures can be very difficult in persons with autism especially where learning disability and communication difficulties are present also. Odd behaviours, stereotypy, aggressive behaviour, neurological deficits, self-directed injurious behaviour and diminished responsiveness may be present in a person with autism whether they have epilepsy or not. Seizures can often manifest in ways similar to these features or behaviours and this can lead to confusion in determining seizure related behaviour from non-seizures.

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