A recent study from the Children’s Hospital Boston found that nearly one-third of older teens with autism spectrum disorders and comorbid epilepsy were affected by photosensitivity or light sensitivity.
“Our study found a high overall incidence of photosensitivity in 25 percent of children over 15 years of age with autism spectrum disorder, and an even higher rate of 29.4 percent in that age group of children who had both epilepsy and autism,” study author Jill Miller-Horn said in a news release from the American Epilepsy Society. “This finding has not been previously reported.”
The numbers also show that as a child grows into their teenage years they are increasingly likely to be affected by brain wave patterns associated with seizure-related light sensitivity.
The study involved 206 children with autism; of these, 118 also had epilepsy. A photoparoxysmal response (PPR) was most common among teens older than 15 years, occurring in 30% of those with comorbid autism and epilepsy. Among children aged 10-15 years, 10% of those with both disorders had a PPR. The response was present in 7% of children aged 6-9 years and 8% of those aged 0-5 years who had both disorders.
About half of the group (7 of 13) also displayed a behavior, common among children with autism, that could be associated with flickering light, including eyelid flutter, hand flapping, prolonged blink and eye closure, and eyelid fluttering. The association could possibly point to environmental factors, such as exposure to television or video programs, computer screens, or even the classic hand-flapping behavior of autism that can mimic a flickering light, Dr. Miller-Horn said.
Children with the photosensitive response might be more apt to have a seizure when exposed to any of these factors, or a rapidly shifting light and shadow.
“Larger-scale prospective studies are needed to confirm this trend,” Dr. Miller-Horn said. “Further study is also needed to identify the importance of these findings in the pathophysiology of epilepsy in children with autism spectrum disorder.”