Thursday, October 6, 2011

Study: Epilepsy in autism

Yet another association with autism that is too often forgotten.  In this longer term study, 33 out of 150 children diagnosed with autism went on to develop epilepsy by the time they were in their twenties.  In the majority of these cases, the seizures began after the children 10 years old.

The study abstract is below.

Epilepsy in autism: features and correlates.

Epilepsy occurs in a significant minority of individuals with autism, but few long-term follow-up studies have been reported, so the prevalence, features (type of seizures, age at onset and severity, etc.) and correlates (IQ history of regression, family history) have only partially been identified.

To undertake a long-term follow-up study of individuals with autism in order to better characterise the features and correlates of epilepsy in individuals with autism.

One hundred and fifty individuals diagnosed with autism in childhood were followed up when they were 21+ years of age. All individuals were screened for a history of possible seizures by parental/informant questionnaire. An epilepsy interview was undertaken and medical notes reviewed for individuals with a history of possible seizures. The features and correlates of epilepsy were examined using survival and regression analysis.

Epilepsy developed in 22% of participants. In the majority, seizures began after 10 years of age. Generalised tonic-clonic seizures predominated (88%). In over a half (19/33), seizures occurred weekly or less frequently and in the majority of individuals (28/31) they were controlled with the prescription of one to two anticonvulsants. Epilepsy was associated with gender (female), intellectual disability and poorer verbal abilities. Although the presence of epilepsy in the probands was not associated with an increased risk of epilepsy in their relatives, it was associated with the presence of the broader autism phenotype in relatives. This indicates that the familial liability to autism was associated with the risk for epilepsy in the proband.

Epilepsy is an important medical complication that develops in individuals with autism. Seizures may first begin in adolescence or adulthood. Putative risk factors for epilepsy in autism were identified and these will require further investigation in future studies.


Bolton PF, Carcani-Rathwell I, Hutton J, Goode S, Howlin P, Rutter M. Epilepsy in autism: features and correlates. Br J Psychiatry. 2011 Apr;198:289-94. PubMed PMID: 21972278.


  1. Thanks for the post MJ.
    Very important study this one. Important because epilepsy is quite a big source of problems to many people with autism (and their families and carers) and because it requires good and 'regular' (stress the word 'regular') medicines management. Also because in most cases epilepsy can be successfully managed (yes even by diet in some drug-resistant cases)

  2. Thanks for sharing this information. I plan on posting your link to my blog this week. I hope you'll visit sometime. I talk about my family, including our experiences with disabilities. My son Cody fits into this catagory.