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Epilepsy Behav. 2015 Jun;47:183-90. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2014.12.022. Epub 2015 Jan 15.

Clinical characteristics of children and young adults with co-occurring autism spectrum disorder and epilepsy.

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Department of Neurology, Boston Children's Hospital, 300 Longwood Ave., Boston, MA 02115, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Neurology, Boston Children's Hospital, 300 Longwood Ave., Boston, MA 02115, USA. Electronic address:


The association between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and epilepsy has been described for decades, and yet we still lack the full understanding of this relationship both clinically and at the pathophysiologic level. This review evaluates the available data in the literature pertaining to the clinical characteristics of patients with autism spectrum disorder who develop epilepsy and, conversely, patients with epilepsy who develop autism spectrum disorder. Many studies demonstrate an increased risk of epilepsy in individuals with ASD, but rates vary widely. This variability is likely secondary to the different study methods employed, including the study population and definitions of the disorders. Established risk factors for an increased risk of epilepsy in patients with ASD include intellectual disability and female gender. There is some evidence of an increased risk of epilepsy associated with other factors such as ASD etiology (syndromic), severity of autistic features, developmental regression, and family history. No one epilepsy syndrome or seizure type has been associated, although focal or localization-related seizures are often reported. The age at seizure onset can vary from infancy to adulthood with some evidence of a bimodal age distribution. The severity and intractability of epilepsy in populations with ASD have not been well studied, and there is very little investigation of the role that epilepsy plays in the autism behavioral phenotype. There is evidence of abnormal EEGs (especially epileptiform abnormalities) in children with ASD even in the absence of clinical seizures, but very little is known about this phenomenon and what it means. The development of autism spectrum disorder in patients with epilepsy is less well studied, but there is evidence that the ASD risk is greater in those with epilepsy than in the general population. One of the risk factors is intellectual disability, and there is some evidence that the presence of a particular seizure type, infantile spasms, may increase risk, but some of the data are conflicting. We believe that one of the reasons that so little is known about this phenomenon is the lack of cross talk between researchers and clinicians alike in the two fields. We conclude that large systematic studies that employ strict ascertainment of samples using standardized definitions of both disorders, validated data collection tools, and appropriate longitudinal follow-up are needed to better shed light on certain clinical aspects of the comorbidity of ASD and epilepsy. Ideally, we could provide the optimal diagnostic and treatment services to these patients in a multidisciplinary setting with both epilepsy and neurobehavioral specialists. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled "Autism and Epilepsy".


Autism; Autism spectrum disorder; Comorbidity; EEG; Epilepsy; Seizure

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