Fact sheet on comorbid disorders with Aspergers and Autism, such as seizures and epilepsy


One in four children with an Autism Spectrum Disorders will develop seizures. These may not necessarily begin in early childhood, but can start as late as adolescence. Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain and are a common comborbid disorder with autism and Asperger's syndrome. There is usually a temporary period of unconsciousness, a body convulsion, unusual movements, or staring spells. Sometimes a contributing factor is a lack of sleep or a high fever.


what is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a chronic condition produced by temporary changes in the electrical function of the brain, causing seizures which affect awareness, movement, or sensation. Before a seizure some may get a feeling of unease called an aura. With medication, most patients with epilepsy who are otherwise healthy are able to live full and productive lives. However, some patients’ lives are devastated by frequent, uncontrollable seizures or associated disabilities. Not everyone who has a seizure has epilepsy. Epilepsy is a long-term, ongoing chronic disorder that causes repeated seizures if it is not treated. It may contribute to, or even cause, brain injury but may also develop after a brain injury.

There are two major types of seizures. The first type, a general seizure, begins on both sides of the brain. Full convulsions or brief staring episodes are often the result. The second type, known as a partial seizure, originates in one region of the brain. In a simple partial seizure, the seizure related brain messages remain localized so that one experiences a feeling, sensation, movement, or other symptom without any change in the level of awareness. Some may suddenly become confused, fumble, wander or repeat inappropriate words or phrases.


treatment of seizures and epilepsy

An electroencephalogram, or EEG, records the electric currents in the brain through electrodes applied to the scalp and can help to confirm the diagnosis of seizures or epilepsy. There is no cure but anticonvulsant medications are the most common treatment. The dosage of the medication is adjusted so that the least possible amount of medication will be used to be effective. A medication must be taken when specified to maintain a constant level in the blood. A regular blood test is usually done to measure the amount of drug in the blood stream. Too much may have side effects such as dizziness or an upset stomach. Too low and there may be a risk of seizures. Parents should keep track of the frequency of their child's seizures and notify the doctor or nurse of medication side effects in case the medication needs adjusting.


Interactions may occur between an anticonvulsant and other medications. It is important to tell any doctor prescribing medication that your child is also taking anticonvulsants. Surgery, which is another treatment option, is generally not performed unless drug treatment has failed. For some, other treatments may include a ketogenic diet (high in fats and oils, low in carbohydrates) and biofeedback.


what to do during a seizure

For a tonic-clonic seizure (grand mal, convulsion) you should get the child into a lying position and then onto one side. Place something soft under the head. Loosen tight clothing. Do not restrain the arms or legs. Do not put anything into the mouth. The seizure itself should only last a few minutes. Afterwards the child may be very sleepy and confused and should be talked to in a calm and quiet manner. A trip to the hospital is usually not necessary unless there has been an injury, the seizure itself lasts for more than ten minutes, or if one seizure goes into another without recovery.

If a person has a partial seizure, stay with them, talk calmly, and protect them from self-injury. Do not restrain them. They may be able to respond to simple commands such as “sit down”. After the seizure explain where you are and what has happened.


puberty and seizures

Seizures may begin in the teenage years and some theorize this is due to hormonal changes in the body with the onset of puberty. Parents should be on the look out for this as the seizures may not be the highly noticeable convulsions but a partial seizure. Some possible symptoms include:

• Behavioral issues such as aggression, self-injury, and emotional outbursts
• Regression or lack of advance in school performance

• Regression or lack of advance in cognition.

If seizures are suspected, an EEG can be used to confirm or rule out seizures.


living with epilepsy AND AUTISM

Having to cope with epilepsy as well as other problems arising from an Autism Spectrum Disorder is not easy. But there are steps parents can take to minimize the effects of epilepsy:
• Ensure medication is taken on time
• Make sure your child avoids alcohol, coffee and other stimulants as they get older
• Take steps to ensure your child sleeps well
• Minimize conditions that trigger seizures such as stress
• Make sure your child wears a Medic-Alert bracelet
• Get medical advice before a teenage child starts driving.

Inform your family, school teachers and friends openly about epilepsy. They will feel more comfortable around your child and be able to assist if your child has a seizure.


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This autism fact sheet is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation. It is derivative of an autism and Asperger's syndrome-related articles at http://en.wikipedia.org

Seizures, and in some cases, epilepsy, are common in children with Asperger's syndrome, Autism and other Autism Spectrum Disorders