Researchers compare autism seizure treatments

Following the results of an extensive survey by researchers at Arizona State University and the University of Texas-Houston, medical professionals and parents now have a better guide for treating children with seizures related to autism.

James Adams, a professor in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, has a daughter with autism and led the project at ASU, which started more than one year ago.

“I was frustrated about the lack of research on treatments that was going on,” Adams said.

The study surveyed 733 parents whose children experienced seizures and asked them to rate 25 traditional and 20 non-traditional seizure treatments.

The results suggested that certain non-traditional treatments, such as a change in diet, could be helpful as supportive treatments.

Many anti-epileptic drugs were found to aid in decreasing the problem of seizures, but often worsened other problems associated with autism, such as sleep cycles and mood.

Several other non-anti-epileptic drugs seemed to help with problems other than seizures, but weren’t as helpful with reducing seizures as their anti-epileptic counterparts.

However, a select set of those treatments seemed to help in improving seizures without having any negative or positive effects on autism.

Although seizures affect about 30 percent of people with autism, there is little known about which treatments are best, and a survey like this has never been conducted, said Richard Frye, a professor at University of Texas-Houston and director of the Medically-Based Autism Clinic.

“It’s a pretty big problem,” Frye said.

On top of that, it’s not a problem that goes away over time.

“It seems like the frequency of seizures actually gets higher as people with autism grow,” Frye said.

In fact, seizures are the leading cause of death for people with autism over the age of 20, he said.

Still, many pharmaceutical companies don’t see creating drugs specifically for the treatment of seizures for people with autism as financially worthwhile.

“There’s no financial gain from drug companies to really do any or fund any big studies that are going to look at this question,” Frye said.

Instead of agreeing on one treatment that works, doctors often “find their favorites and they start with that,” he said, adding that there aren’t any epileptic drugs “really tailored for any specific type of syndrome or disorder.”

Even if the companies did begin a study, if the results didn’t turn out to be positive, that would be akin to “shooting themselves in the foot,” Frye said.

In the meantime, the survey may start a dialogue on how to treat seizures related to autism going forward.

“It’s a big unanswered question,” Frye said. “I think this really fills a knowledge gap.”

Reach the reporter at clecher@asu.edu


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