Epilepsy & Autism

Environmental and Intrinsic Triggers

19 February 2009
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Children and adults with ASD may be more sensitive in general to certain sensory stimuli (e.g. loud sounds, glaring lights etc) which can cause emotional distress. For some people with epilepsy environmental triggers can precipitate seizures, especially reflex epilepsies triggered by visual, auditory or less often tactile stimuli. Aside from reflex epilepsies intrinsic and physiological triggers such as emotional state (stress, fear, excitement), level of sleep deprivation, illness (especially with fever), and hunger can play significant roles in triggering seizures. Changes in routine can pose triggers for seizures in adults and children with epilepsy (sleep/meals/daily schedule/timezones etc) as they are often "pattern sensitive". Similarly routine is of importance to many persons with autism.

Often it is difficult to obtain a direct account from the person with autism of their internal experience (how they are feeling prior to or after seizures) as their communication skills may not be sufficient for them to convey this. Key people closest to the person will often learn to anticipate seizures on the basis of observed phenomena, autonomic signs such as pallor or flushing of the facial area, behaviour and mood changes, or individual subtle and gross alterations in state in the preceding hours or even days before a seizure. These states are called prodromes. Sometimes a child may just seem to be "out of sorts" prior to seizures and may show this in a variety of ways, such as by seeking out an adult or a preferred activity or seeming insecure or agitated in their usual environment.

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