Looking at the link between epilepsy and autism

Looking at the link between epilepsy and autism

Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that causes seizures, and it affects approximately 2 million people in the United States. For individuals with autism, epilepsy is more common than in the general population. Fewer than 1% of children aged 17 and younger develop clinical seizures. By comparison, one of the largest studies aimed at identifying the prevalence of epilepsy in children with autism found that among children aged 13 years and older with autism spectrum disorder, 26% were diagnosed with epilepsy.

Epilepsy in individuals with autism is most common in children over the age of nine. Children aged 10 or older with autism are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with epilepsy compared to younger children. Epilepsy in girls with autism is often more severe compared to boys. Overall, however, boys are affected more with autism, so more research is needed to identify what role, if any, sex plays in the connection between autism and seizures.

Another risk factor for development of epilepsy in autism is intellectual impairment. Several studies suggest that children who have both autism and intellectual disability are more likely to have epilepsy than other children with autism.

Treatment options for children and adults with autism and epilepsy depend on the type of epilepsy syndrome and type of seizures. No specific anti-seizure medication works better in this subgroup. In general, anti-seizure medications, which have a mood stabilizing or calming modality, tend to be better tolerated in this subgroup.

Marshall Health’s department of neurology is committed to educating the public about epilepsy and seizures, fighting social stigmas surrounding epilepsy and supporting fundraising and research for a cure. Patients and caregivers with questions should talk with their primary neurologist and seek support from The West Virginia Epilepsy Foundation. For appointments at Marshall Neurology, call 304-691-1787.

This article was published in the November 20, 2022, edition of The Herald-Dispatch.


Samrina Hanif, MD

Dr. Hanif is a board-certified, fellowship-trained neurologist and an associate professor of neurology at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. She specializes in caring for patients with epilepsy.