Invisible Disabilities: How Autism Exists and is Linked to Epilepsy

Ever since I became more interested in raising awareness of epilepsy, I’ve spent plenty of time reading news stories regarding disabilities on the BBC website, as well as other places online. Obviously, I can’t label one disability as the most difficult to deal with. But when browsing, articles and videos often talking about problems for people affected by autism are quite common.

After telling my readers how I’m thinking about finding out more about various other invisible disabilities last month, autism was the first condition that came to mind.

A bit of further reading has now occurred, and I’ve also come across articles and documents that talk about the link between epilepsy and autism. I know the relationship between both conditions has been part of scientific interests since the 1960’s.

Autism is more common than people tend to believe. By becoming more aware of the issues it inflicts on people with the disability, you can be more understanding and respectful to millions of people dealing with it across the globe. If you’ve got a keen interest in raising awareness of epilepsy, then some of this information may be beneficial to yourself as well.

What is Autism?

Autism is lifelong, an invisible disability that affects the way a person communicates with and relates to other people. It affects how they experience life as a whole. People with autism see, hear and feel the world differently to others, and often consider their condition to be a significant feature of their identity.

Charlene Croft's Autistic Son
On average, more boys than girls are diagnosed with autism

In the past, many different diagnostic labels have been used to describe the condition, and today, it’s most often referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People who live with ASD share certain difficulties, although they are independently affected by it in different ways as well. Sometimes they’ll head to university and hold down full-time jobs; but in other circumstances, they can need a lifetime of specialist support.

Asperger syndrome is another diagnostic label of autism that represents people who have an average or above average level of intelligence. Speech isn’t usually much of an issue, but they do have problems understanding and processing language.

When living with Asperger, sufferers sometimes look at the world as a combined, confusing mass of people, events and places. Struggling to make sense of everything, this often leads to feelings of anxiety.

Signs and Symptoms

Before the age of three, symptoms of ASD are present, although the diagnosis is sometimes made after children turn three years old.

When managing the condition, individuals usually have problems with social interaction and communication.

Examples of this in early infancy can be spotted when children don’t babble or use other vocal sounds. Older children are resistant to non-verbal behaviours, like making eye contact, facial expressions, body language and gestures.

Children with ASD often repeat words or phrases spoken by others without constructing their own language, or alongside their development of language skills. Some children will frequently be found repeating the same pretend play, while other don’t tend to demonstrate any examples of it.

Autism Awareness Jigsaw Pieces
A lot of charities supporting autism exist in the UK alone, such as the National Autistic Society, Autistica and Autism Alliance

Another main point to be aware of with ASD is that about 70% of children managing it have a non-verbal IQ below 70. Of these, around 50% have a non-verbal IQ below 50. As well as that, up to 50% of people with “severe learning difficulties” also have an ASD.

Along with their difficulties with spoken language, responding to others, interacting with others and general behaviour, ASD is associated with other conditions too. Along with epilepsy, autism can occur with symptoms and aspects of many other conditions.

These include learning disabilities, Tourette’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, bipolar disorder and more.

I don’t have time to name all the signs and symptoms of children with ASD; the list goes on. If you need to be more aware of these details, then I recommend taking a look at this dedicated information on the NHS website.

How It Starts to Seem a Little Similar

Although autism is very much different from epilepsy when it comes down to the difficulties it causes and the lifestyle that people lead, both can be labelled as an invisible disability. Like epilepsy, individuals with autism are dealing with it in their own, unique way. From what I’ve watched and read online, it also seems to be another complicated disability that is often misunderstood by others.

Similar to epilepsy, many people aren’t aware of autism in society. You may be surprised to hear that slightly more than one in every hundred people are affected by autism – approximately 700,000 people in the UK alone.

Treatment for ASD is provided with a range of specialist interventions that aim to improve communication skills and help with educational and social development. However, it’s also correct to say that like epilepsy, autism is another condition that can’t be cured.

Research on Autism and Epilepsy

Although no evidence suggests that epilepsy or epileptic seizures cause autism, it is now known that autistic people are more likely to develop epilepsy than those who are neurotypical. As well as that, people with epilepsy are more likely to be autistic than those without their condition.

People with autism hold a bigger threat of developing epilepsy if they hold an intellectual disability (ID). Children with autism hold a 20% risk of developing epilepsy when they have an ID, where as the risk for those without one is 8%.

There’s up to a 40% chance of gathering epilepsy that stands for children with autism and severe intellectual disabilities. Approximately 4% of children with autism who have IQ’s above 70 develop epilepsy.

As time continues, the risk of somebody with autism developing epilepsy increases as they make their way through their teenage years and young adulthood.

If you’d like to learn more about how the diagnosis works, and how to support people with autism and epilepsy when seizures occur, then there’s information online that can help you out further. I can tell you now that the answers are very similar to how you deal with the situation for any person who has epilepsy and is neurotypical.

However, people with autism tend to find it more difficult to communicate with others, and therefore may have difficulty communicating what they are experiencing before a seizure occurs. If a child or adult struggles to tell you about these feelings, then it’s best to use alternative communication and create a method for them to make you aware of the problem at hand.

To find out more about epilepsy and autism, you can download this free e-leaflet from autistica.org.uk, or read up on news of the link found between both conditions on many different websites.

Fighting Hard for their Rights

When many people in society see children with autism, they wrongfully consider them to be naughty because of their irresponsive and sometimes aggressive behaviour. After a misunderstanding, the behaviour of a child with autism may leave them being mistreated by a teacher or other pupil in school. When this happens, discrimination against a disability has occurred.

For example, a supply teacher could be alarmed when the arms of an autistic boy with autism are flapped towards her after she asks him to move from his seat. After this, she may then have chosen to exclude him from the class.

However, in these circumstances, the supply teacher should have been made aware that the autistic child would respond to her request for movement in this way. Children with autism often find it difficult to take a different approach to routines once a rule has been set. Due to his disability, the continued seat placement may well have been discussed with school staff and considered a reasonable adjustment for the autistic boy to maintain at the start of the year.

Caution Autistic Child Sign

It takes a fair bit of effort for parents of children with autism to successfully communicate and resolve differences with their child’s school, but it’s an important task to complete.

Depending on where you live in the UK, finding a diagnosis for your child with autism as well as the support they need can be very difficult. Although the Welsh Government has set a target of 26 weeks, the average time it takes for applicants to move from their referral to a diagnosis for their child with autism is currently two years.

Parents of those with the condition often have to fight hard for the right kind of support and end up paying thousands of pounds for assessments and solicitors to help them gather the help they need.

After Learning a Little More

I don’t consider myself to be any specialist now, but do feel happier knowing that I’ve at least read through the basics and also know more about how epilepsy and autism are linked.

Like epilepsy, autism seems to be a complicated condition, and I’ll be willing to find out more about it when the time is right. Hopefully, as I network with more people regarding many other disabilities, I’ll pick up any more information to raise my awareness of the condition if needed.

By recognising autism, I’ll hopefully have the ability to make others aware of it when needed too. I only hope I can further help raise the main issues for all people with disabilities, and help stop any discrimination that unfortunately still exists within society.

P1210597 by Charlene Croft / Caution Autistic Child by Anthony Auston

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