I heard quite early in my autism journey or experience that some children with autism have seizures. But I didn’t meet anyone like that for a long time. Sometime last year, I finally met a child on the spectrum that suffers from seizures. Witnessing this boy’s fits made seizures very real to me. But I still did not understand what the seizures were about. Fast forward to March 2014, I was privileged to be part of the “World Epilepsy Day” seminar organized by Society for Neurology and the Mental Health Department of Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife, and I was privileged to learn a lot. So here I am bringing the gist to you about seizures; what it means and how to handle it.
According to an article by Autism speaks, studies suggest that about 15 to 30 percent of people on the spectrum experience seizures. Seizure refers to abnormal movements or behaviours that happen as a result of unusual electrical activities in the brain. The most common type of seizure is the one that involves jerking. I grew up referring to that as convulsion, and that was what I recognized as seizure in the boy I met last year. But now I know that there are other types of seizures. When seizures recur, especially for no identified reason, it is referred to as Epilepsy.
There are different types of seizures. As I said earlier, the most common is the one that involves jerking. The whole body may jerk or just a part of the body may start jerking. But some seizures are not as dramatic. Seizures can be as mild as the individual perceiving a strange smell to the severe case where the individual will fall down and start jerking. Other seizure signs include;
· A period of unresponsiveness, which may lasts for about 10-20 seconds. It may seem like the person is daydreaming or aloof. In the video we watched at the seminar, the guy just stopped responding to the other guy talking with him, and just kept walking. The person becomes alert afterwards.
· Repetitive blinking, eyes rolling, head bobbing etc.
· There may be sudden lose of muscle tone. The individual may go limp and fall down.
· The person may make a loud sound or just go through the fit quietly.
· Numbness in some parts of the body, or feeling like one is being pricked by pins.
· Change in breathing or heart rate.
· Some people that have seizures may sense it coming before it actually starts. This is referred to as aura.
Seizures can occur in babies, children at any age, and even in adults; the causes may just vary for different age groups. For adults, it might be a sign of stroke. When your child has seizures, it is important to see a neurologist. The neurologist will most likely order an electroencephalogram (EEG), which is a non-invasive process that helps to monitor activities in the brain. The neurologist will then analyze the brain activity patterns that the EEG measured, to determine if the individual is having seizures.
For children with autism, some signs of seizures may be mistaken for odd behaviour or vice versa. Children with autism can show staring episodes or stereotypic movements which are not seizures, it is therefore important that one sees a doctor and conduct the test in order to know what exactly is being exhibited.
Epilepsy cannot be cured, but seizures can be controlled by antiepileptic drugs. These will be prescribed by the doctor. At the seminar, a staff of Novartis (they produce an antiepileptic drug), came to talk to us. He told us that it was good to buy “controlled release” versions of antiepileptic drugs. Controlled release drugs just reduce the number of times the individual has to take the drugs per day (at least that's what I remember him saying). I must testify here that the child I know on the spectrum has been on antiepileptic medication, and yes we and his parents pray for him all the time. When I first met him, he used to have seizures a lot. But the episodes have reduced greatly. We can go two whole months without a seizure episode. So please as you pray for your child, still follow the doctor’s orders and give your child prescribed drugs. Don’t just say “I read about a drug for seizures” and then you’ll start using it for your child. Make sure the doctor tests the child and prescribe the drugs and tells you how to administer it.
For some individuals, drugs don’t work. The doctor may advise surgery for extreme cases, or the individual may be placed on a special diet. This special diet is called “Ketogenic diet”.
When an individual around you has a seizure (especially the jerking kind), what should you do? Number 1, DO NOT PANIC. Place the person on the floor in a safe area. Remove objects nearby. Loosen any clothing around the neck or the head. Please do not put anything in the mouth or between the teeth. And do not attempt to restrain movements. Turn the person to the side, so that in case there’s vomit, he/she won’t choke.
This is not all. Even though I know some people will consider me to be like Nollywood, with my part 1 and 2 articles, I'll still have to put up a part 2. This article is already too long, and if you are like me, you will stop gaining anything from the post when it's long. So tomorrow, I shall put up a sequel. It's very important for you to read it, there's still a lot to learn about seizures.
I love you and I hope I've not bored you. I'll appreciate comments, even if it is to correct something I've read.You can also send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks