Throughout years of research, it has been evident that females are much less likely to develop autism disorders than males. However, recent findings have shown that autistic girls are more susceptible to epilepsy, with nearly three times as many diagnoses than autistic boys of the same age.
According to a recently published issue of Autism Research, girls on the mild end of the autism spectrum are highly vulnerable to “treatment-resistant” epilepsy. Approximately one-fourth of all individuals with autism have some form of epilepsy, compared to just 1% of the general population. The new study states that women with both autism and epilepsy typically have milder symptoms of ASD, but often deal with stronger effects of epilepsy, such as intense seizures. As a result, the study suggests that whatever is protecting women from autism, does not do the same for epilepsy.
Karen Blackmon, assistant professor of neurology at New York University, led a team of researchers, closely studying 125 individuals between the ages of 2 and 35, all of which were seeking treatment for epilepsy. Ninety-seven of these participants were male, and the other twenty-eight were female.
The team discovered that only 24 percent of the male participants were resistant to two types of epilepsy treatments, while forty-six percent of the females were completely unresponsive to the same drugs.
Each participant underwent MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans following the treatment. Scientists found that all of the female subjects with both autism and epilepsy were prone to cortical dysplasia, an abnormality of the brain region where neurons fail to migrate to the places they’re supposed to be. On the contrary, males showed no evidence of the abnormality.
Moving forward, researchers aim to conduct further studies to find whether or not chronic dysplasia has any relation to the resistance in females to the epilepsy treatments. Christine Nordahl, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at University of California – Davis states, “We know very little about the subgroup of individuals with [both] autism and epilepsy. [However[, this study is a great first step in exploring sex differences in this subgroup.”