Autistic children with epilepsy also tended to be more impaired than those without epilepsy. About 54 percent of those with treatment-resistant epilepsy had motor skills delays, compared to 35 percent of those with treatable epilepsy. Also, those with treatment-resistant epilepsy had more language delays (72 percent versus 65 percent), and were somewhat more likely to experience development regression, the study suggested.
Autism experts have long known that many people with autism also suffer from epilepsy, said Clara Lajonchere, vice president of clinical programs for Autism Speaks. Prior research suggests about 30 percent of people with autism also have epilepsy, while new research suggests the prevalence may even be higher.
A study published in the April 15 issue of the Journal of Child Neurology found that 39 percent of those with autism who'd donated brain tissue had epilepsy. "There seems to be increased mortality in people with autism and epilepsy as compared to those with autism alone," said Lajonchere, senior author of that study.
People with autism are more likely than those in the general population to experience "sudden, unexplained death," she said, adding that some of those deaths are likely from seizures.
It's not fully understood why seizures can be deadly, Devinksy said, but it's believed that seizures can interfere with breathing, brain function and heart rhythms.
Both experts agree that much more needs to be learned about epilepsy and autism, including possibly screening children diagnosed with autism for epilepsy.
"They are already dealing with cognitive, social and emotional problems," Devinksy said. "And now you add to it epilepsy. It adds to the overall problem of autism."
All rights reserved