For parents of children with autism, other conditions like epilepsy or seizures are a major concern. Epilepsy normally occurs in 1 to 2 percent of the general population. But for those with autism, seizures are seen in 5% to 38% of individuals.
In a 2013 study, 6,000 children with autism were examined. Of those participants, 12.5 percent were diagnosed with epilepsy. For participants over the age of 13, 26 percent had epilepsy. Other studies found 2 to 46 percent of autistic participants had epilepsy.
A similar Swedish study of over 85,000 people with seizures were ten times more likely to have autism as well compared to the general population.
What Is EpilepsyEpilepsy or seizures are caused by changes in electrical activity inside the brain. Within the realm of epilepsy, there are different types of seizures. There are two main types of seizures classified by different characteristics, focal onset seizures, and generalized onset seizures.
Focal onset seizures are also called partial onset seizures and they only happen in one part of the brain and typically last less than two minutes. During a focal onset seizure, an individual may be aware or lose consciousness.
Generalized onset seizures occur on both sides of the brain at once. Within generalized onset seizures there are three common types:
Tonic-clonic- Also known as grand mal seizures. The muscles will stiffen and arm movements will become jerky (“clonic”) during convulsions. Many people lose consciousness during this type of seizure.
Atonic- Also known as “drop attacks” because the muscles will suddenly go limp. These become especially dangerous when an individual is standing up because he/she can drop to the ground resulting in injury. This type of seizure lasts about 15 seconds.
Absence- Also called petit-mal seizures. A person experiences no muscle drop or convulsions. Instead, an individual will blink repeatedly or stare at nothing and are often mistaken for daydreaming.
If the beginning of a seizure is not witnessed by someone, the seizure is then classified as an unknown onset seizure.
Symptoms Of A SeizureAs a parent of a child with autism, I know how important it is to know what a seizure looks like. Even if it is just a precaution and your child is not diagnosed or never has a seizure. Certain seizure types like absence or petit-mal seizures are not always seen by a parent as a seizure.
Children with autism often have staring spells that are not seizures. The only difference between staring spells and absence seizures are the duration of the staring and if the person can come out of the staring spell easily.
Symptom indicators before a seizure:
Symptoms while a seizure is happening:
As a parent with a child with autism, it’s upsetting knowing that seizures are so prevalent in children with autism. Am I overly paranoid about my son developing seizures? Yes! And for good reason. I experienced seizures from the age of 8 years old to 13 years old. Thankfully, I grew out of them and they were managed by anti-seizure medication.
But after having grand mal seizures myself with the longest seizure lasting four and a half minutes, it’s something I never wanted my children to experience. While I have not noticed any seizure symptoms, I have noticed my son going through long staring spells. These are a concern because it’s very hard to tell whether they’re simply staring spells or an actual seizure.
Because of my son’s autism, family history of epilepsy, and his staring spells I’ve already spoken to a pediatric neurologist. Although the neurologist doesn’t believe the staring spells are absence seizures, because of autism and family history I need to be vigilant of seizures in the future.
If you have a child with autism, it’s important to know the different types of seizures and the symptoms that correspond with them. While your child may never have a single seizure, it’s best to be overly cautious when it comes to autism and epilepsy.
About the AuthorLiz Talton is the contributing author for the Speech Blubs blog. After her son received an Autism
Spectrum Disorder evaluation, she decided to do all she can to help her little one. She is a full-
time blogger, and a creator of Pitter Patter of Baby Feet, a website dedicated to trying to
conceive; fertility; pregnancy; mental health and anything related to motherhood. Before starting
a family, she received a master’s degree in forensic psychology and mental health.
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