Early behavioral signs predict seizures in autistic children, according to a new study.
Previous work has shown that 5 to 46 percent of people with autism experience seizures. And autistic adults with epilepsy have, on average, less cognitive ability and weaker daily living skills than their autistic peers who do not have seizures.
The new study shows that people with autism who begin having seizures during childhood show small but significant behavioral differences before they ever experience a seizure, compared with those who do not develop epilepsy. They score lower than their peers on measures of quality of life and adaptive behaviors, which include communication, daily living skills, socialization and motor skills. They score higher on a measure of hyperactivity.
The results suggest that seizures and certain behavioral issues in autism could have common origins, says co-lead investigator Jamie Capal, associate professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
To illuminate a shared mechanism, researchers would need to measure electrical activity in the brain in both autistic and neurotypical children with and without epilepsy over many years, Capal says. Only in that way could they correlate changes in brain activity directly to behavioral characteristics.
For now, Capal’s team plans to examine whether autistic children who have seizures and atypical electrical activity in the brain share genetic markers.