Having a child with epilepsy presents plenty of challenges. When your child is also diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, you may be feeling unprepared for the future. The partnership between Ohio State’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital can help families find the treatment and support they need.

Are autism and epilepsy related?

On their own, epilepsy and autism are each diagnosed in about 2% of children. Epilepsy can co-occur with certain factors like genetic abnormalities and certain metabolic conditions causing both. As many as 30% of children with autism also have epilepsy, but there’s no single type of seizure associated with autism.

When a person with autism has epilepsy, there’s likely to be associated motor problems, language difficulties and regression.

How early can epilepsy be diagnosed in kids with autism?

An epilepsy diagnosis is usually made in children with autism in early childhood or adolescence. However, up to 20% of people with autism may not have their first seizure until adulthood.

Who’s at risk for both epilepsy and autism?

Although autism is much more common in boys than girls, women who have autism are more likely to have epilepsy than men with autism. The risk of epilepsy with autism appears higher when intellectual disabilities are also present.

Additionally, children with epilepsy are slightly more likely to have autism. Epileptic seizures in infancy, particularly infantile spasms, appears to raise this risk.

What are researchers learning about epilepsy and autism?

While seizures are the most common neurologic complication of autism, they may not be due to epilepsy.

Other conditions that can cause seizures include Rett syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Landau-Kleffner, Angelman syndrome, Prader-Willi disease and tuberous sclerosis complex.

What are the epilepsy treatment options for someone with autism?

First, your doctor will ensure a definitive diagnosis of both conditions before creating a treatment plan.

Seizures in people with autism are treated with the same medications and therapies used for those who don’t have autism.

Epilepsy surgery to treat severe seizures can lead to long-term improvement in social behavior and mental abilities.

Treating the entire child

Although epilepsy and autism appear related, it’s not yet clear how they influence each other and if they co-exist or one more often causes the other.

For a parent, this distinction between the two conditions matters less than having a team that coordinates their child’s care and understands how different treatments and strategies impact both conditions.

Transitioning to adult care

As a child ages and care needs to shift from the Epilepsy Center for Kids at Nationwide Children’s Hospital or another pediatric practice to Ohio State’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, we offer a Transitional Care Clinic for Young Adults with Childhood Conditions.

Working with the patient, family and Nationwide Children’s Hospital or other pediatric physicians, our goal is to help adolescents assume more independence over their own care.

  • We want to ensure your child feels comfortable with their new care team.
  • New responsibilities and expectations must be appropriate and not cause any unnecessary stress.
  • Most importantly, effective treatments will continue without interruption.
Learn more about epilepsy

Learn more about epilepsy

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