Autism, a neurodevelopmental condition that impairs social skills and creates repetitive behaviors, is strongly linked with epilepsy, a neurological condition resulting in seizures. Almost half of those with autism also have epilepsy, according to reports cited by the autism news site Spectrum.org.
The parallels between autism and epilepsy were explored this month in a report by Spectrum. As evidence of the strong link between autism and epilepsy, the article noted a 2013 study, which found that out of 6,000 autistic children, 12.5% had epilepsy. This proportion increased to 26% among children above 13 years old. A 2019 study found that out of 7,00 children with autism, roughly 10% had epilepsy.
The Spectrum report noted that autism does not appear to be associated with a specific type of epilepsy, and that people with autism experience most types of seizures. The onset of epilepsy in children with autism seems to occur in early childhood and adolescence, though as many as 20% of people with autism and epilepsy have their first seizure in adulthood.
Some studies have suggested that children with autism and intellectual disability are more likely to have epilepsy than those with autism alone. Autistic women are also more likely to have epilepsy than autistic men. Motor problems, language difficulties, and regression are all connected with epilepsy in a person with autism.
Some studies also suggest that autism and epilepsy stem from a common genetic origin. Mutations in certain genes, such as SCN2A and HNRNPU, have been connected to epilepsy, autism, or both. Genetic conditions related to autism, such as tuberous sclerosis, are connected to epilepsy as well.
There is evidence to suggest that autism and epilepsy might both stem from an imbalance between excitation and inhibition in the brain. A 2003 study suggests that autism shares this imbalance, though many experts remain skeptical.
To better understand the link between autism and epilepsy, researchers are monitoring the health of newborns with tuberous sclerosis, a genetic condition that leads to both epileptic seizures and autism. Thus far, the researchers have found that children who have seizures in their first year of life are most likely to have developmental delay. The researchers plan to test these children for autism once they turn three years old. According to Spectrum, the same researchers have also designed a clinical trial to examine whether preventing seizures in infant children with tuberous sclerosis improves their development and prevents a later diagnosis of autism.