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Autism and Seizures

A 1/3 of people with autism also experience seizures, sometimes related to epilepsy. I experience a type of seizure known as a focal (partial) seizure. This type of seizure causes my eyes to flicker and roll as well as causing spasms and rapid breathing.

It can be difficult to spot a seizure – especially when a person has autism as the symptoms can be passed off as a sensory overload or an autism trait.

The link between autism and seizures is still being explored. Like autism, seizures exists on a spectrum. Severity varies widely among people. There are several types of seizures, each with somewhat different symptoms:

  • Tonic-clonic seizures are the most common. Also known as gran mal seizures, they produce muscle stiffening followed by jerking. Gran mal seizures also produce loss of consciousness.
  • Absence seizures can be difficult to recognise. Also known as petit mal seizures, they are marked by periods of unresponsiveness. The person may stare into space. He or she may or may not exhibit jerking or twitching.
  • Tonic seizures involve muscle stiffening alone.
  • Clonic seizures involve repeated jerking movements on both sides of the body.
  • Myoclonic seizures involve jerking or twitching of the upper body, arms or legs.
  • Atonic seizures involve sudden limpness, or loss of muscle tone. The person may fall or drop his or her head involuntarily.

What should I do if someone is having a focal seizure?

Simple partial seizures rarely require first aid. Since consciousness is preserved, the person is almost always aware of the seizure and the surroundings. When care or help is needed, what to do would depend on the specific seizure symptoms.

Examples of what to do:

  • Stop any activity in which you could get hurt when symptoms that affect vision, thinking, emotions, or affects your sensation or movement. This would include hallucinations too – what you may be hearing, seeing, or thinking may not be clear during this type of seizure.
  • If you are walking, sit down to avoid falling.
  • Remove harmful objects if an arm or leg movement could bump into them.
  • Stay away from open flames, bodies of water, or other unsafe areas.
  • Sometimes relaxing activities such as deep breathing or imagery can help slow down or abort symptoms in some people. Others may find that focusing on a specific activity can help.
  • If the person has a vagus nerve stimular, use the magnet to help stop the event.
  • Get the person levels, look them in the eyes and try to reassure them that you’re there and present.

Usually further help isn’t needed after simple partial seizures. Yet if the seizure occurs in clusters or goes into a complex partial or generalise seizure, more help may be needed.

call 111 in the U.K. for advice if you are unsure and in emergencies or where the person is not recovering call 999.

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