Epilepsy in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder


A child with epilepsy is just as capable as any other child, and they deserve the same love and nurturing!

Autism is often diagnosed alongside many other disorders, and epilepsy tends to be closely linked, with children with autism being slightly more likely to have epilepsy and vice versa (Khan, 2017). Epilepsy is a neurological condition that can be diagnosed at childhood, puberty, or adulthood. This article will guide you through understanding what epilepsy is, identifying common seizure triggers, and how a parent can help their child with epilepsy.



What is Epilepsy?


Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where there is an occurrence of seizures, as a result of repeated bursts of energy in the brain. However, not all autistic children develop seizures. According to a study published by Viscidi et al. (2013) wherein 6,000 autistic children were observed, around 12.5 percent of these children had epilepsy. The proportion rose to 26 percent in children who were over 13 years of age. This percentage is not exact, but it is observed to be around this range.


Further, seizures can be classified into three groups, generalized onset seizures, focal onset seizures - which are also sometimes called partial seizures - and unknown onset seizures (Kiriakopolous, 2017). This classification separates them into groups that are based on movements.


  • Generalized seizures happen when both sides of the brain are affected, and it can be classified into two different subtypes:


  • Motor Symptoms

  • Consistent rhythmic jerking movements of the body (clonic)

  • Muscles becoming limp or weak (atonic)

  • Muscles becoming tense or rigid (tonic)

  • Muscle twitching (myoclonus)

  • Epileptic spasms (consistent body flexes)


  • Non-Motor Symptoms

  • Absence seizures - where individuals tend to blank out and stare into space (staring spells)

  • Brief twitching of muscles (myoclonus) in a specific area (e.g., twitching of the eyelids)


  • In contrast, focal or partial seizures occur when only one area of the brain is affected. As a result, only one part of the body experiences a seizure, such as an arm or a leg.


  • Motor Symptoms

  • Consistent rhythmic jerking movements of the body (clonic)

  • Muscles becoming limp or weak (atonic)

  • Muscles becoming tense or rigid (tonic)

  • Muscle twitching (myoclonus)

  • Epileptic spasms (consistent body flexes)

  • Repeated automatic movements (e.g., clapping or rubbing of hands, lip smacking, running)


  • Non-Motor Symptoms

  • Changes in sensation, thinking/cognition, or emotions

  • Repeated automatic functions (e.g., cold or heat waves, goosebumps, heart racing)

  • Lack of movement (behaviour arrest)


  • Unknown Onset Seizure


  • Motor Symptoms

  • Tonic-clonic seizures– during a tonic-clonic seizure, the individual tends to experience whole body seizures, or lose consciousness, for under 5 minutes long. However, it can be dangerous if it goes on for over 5 minutes. Call for medical help if it lasts over 5 minutes or if the person gets injured.


  • Non-Motor Symptoms

  • Staring and absence of movement (behaviour arrest)

Epilepsy Triggers


Epileptic children who experience seizures have different triggers compared to one another, and it may be difficult to pinpoint what it is. It is recommended that parents keep a seizure journal, where they note down possible triggers when a seizure happens, and what time of day it occurs at. This can help the parent and child learn how to prevent future seizures.


So, what are some common triggers for epilepsy, and what are some ways to avoid a seizure?


  • Flashing lights

  • This trigger can be avoided by preventing your child from watching videos that contain flashing lights or fast-moving images, or not attending concerts that may have flashing stage lights.


  • Sleep deprivation or overtiredness

  • Make sure you build a bedtime routine with your child and that they are getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age group

  • Ensure a comfortable setting for sleep to prevent your child from constantly waking up during the night, resulting in poor quality of sleep

  • Limit long naps in the day, as this can affect the quantity and quality of sleep at night


  • Stress

  • Take note of different situations that stresses your child out and try to avoid it if possible.

  • Find and create coping techniques to manage stress levels – find things that help your child relax!

  • Appropriate forms of exercise can be beneficial for managing stress while having fun.


  • Food

  • Try to avoid certain types of food, such as excess caffeine, as they can aggravate seizures

  • Make sure your child is eating regularly, as having too little food from not eating well can result in low blood sugar, which may trigger a seizure.



Some Ways Parents Can Help Their Child


Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for epilepsy. However, it can mostly be treated with medication that is prescribed by a doctor. It is also beneficial to provide emotional and academic support to help the child grow in a safe and accommodating environment.


During school, it may be difficult to watch your child for the whole day and keep them away from seizure triggers. Inform your child’s teachers about their condition and ask them to accommodate your child if possible. If your child is triggered by flashing lights, the teacher can avoid playing videos that contain flashing lights or images. Additionally, if stress is a trigger, parents and teachers can discuss special arrangements for exams to reduce any environmental stress.


Home is meant to be an emotionally and physically safe place for children. One way to increase the safety at home would be to install cushioning to sharp edges, such as table or cabinet corners. Parents can also add soft carpets in rooms that the child spends most time in. This is so that children would not seriously injure themselves in the event that a seizure happens.


All in all, the stigma surrounding epilepsy should not hinder a child from flourishing and succeeding. A child with epilepsy is just as capable as any other child, and they deserve the same love and nurturing! As adults, we can only help by making sure they are safe where possible, and that medical help is readily available.



Written by Ashely.



References


Khan, T. (2017, March 21). Epilepsy and Autism: Is There a Relationship? Retrieved from

https://www.epilepsy.com/article/2017/3/epilepsy-and-autism-there-relationship

Kiriakopolous, E. (2017, March). Types of Seizures. Retrieved from

https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/types-seizures

Viscidi, E. W., Triche, E. W., Pescosolido, M. F., Mclean, R. L., Joseph, R. M., Spence, S. J., &

Morrow, E. M. (2013). Clinical Characteristics of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Co-Occurring Epilepsy. PLoS ONE,8(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067797

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