Autism is a developmental disorder primarily caused by genetic mutations and by chemicals impacting the fetus’s brain growth during the first eight weeks in the womb. Epilepsy is a brain issue where the person experiences recurring seizures. How are the two related?
What Are Seizures and Epilepsy?
Seizures are the name for a variety of types of unusual electrical firings that happen in the brain. Seizures can cause a number of outward symptoms. The classic one that most people think of is where the person involved ends up on the floor shaking. That is just one type of seizure. In another type of seizure, the person seems to go stiff. In yet another type of seizure, the person seems to lose attention for a short while.
Epilepsy is the name they give this condition if it keeps happening over time.
Epilepsy and Autism
The altered wiring of the brain which causes autism seems to be related to the altered wiring of the brain which causes seizures and epilepsy.
About a third of people on the autism spectrum experience epilepsy as well.
Challenges of Autism and Epilepsy
Living with epilepsy is challenging. While some triggers can be managed, like flashing lights, other times a seizure can come on without any warning. This can mean a person can be restricted from tasks they might need to do like driving a car or operating machinery.
Adding autism into this can make it even more challenging, because some on the autism spectrum are unable to communicate in any way. That means if they experience warning signs that a seizure is coming, they often have no way to communicate it. They can be much more anxious about a seizure because they don’t understand what is happening.
Also, because someone on the autism spectrum might already have presentations of ‘going distant’ or ‘going stiff’ it can be much harder to figure out if the behavior is their normal behavior or if they are having a seizure event.
It can also be harder, if medication would help, to ensure the medication is taken on schedule.
It’s important for anybody who has epilepsy – whether they are autistic or not – to research the situation thoroughly and to talk with trained professionals about the best options.