In part one of my two part series Seizures and Autism, I discussed the physiological causes of seizures and how to differentiate between a seizure and stimming. In this second installment I’d like to share with you some of the typical treatments you can expect to encounter if your child with autism is struggling with seizures.
Treatments for Seizures
There are a variety of interventions used to treat seizure disorders and epilepsy in children.
- Medications: In most cases traditional medications are the primary intervention used to reduce seizure activity in children. Different and new medications come out all the time and these different medications have their own unique dosing requirements.
Additionally, each anti-seizure medication interacts differently with other medications which makes it especially important to work with a specialist such as a neurologist or epileptologist to ensure the treatment is effective and safe.
- Ketogenic diet: A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, extremely low carbohydrate diet. Recently it’s become popular among the general public, but its effectiveness in treating epilepsy has been researched for a long time. These studies have shown the use of the ketogenic diet to be 50% effective in the reduction of seizure activity in 40% of kids ages 1-10.
A ketogenic diet is not a cure for epilepsy or seizure disorders. Even for children who experienced reduced seizure activity as a result of the diet, they still require monitoring by a specialist and the use of anti-seizure medications. The ketogenic diet can help with mitochondria productivity. Mitochondria are the main energy producers in our cells.
A ketogenic diet can make mitochondria stronger and more effective by helping them produce more energy. Additionally, a ketogenic diet can increase the inhibitory neurotransmitter – GABA. GABA calms or decreases the levels of glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter) in the brain by stabilizing the connections. The result is often reduced seizure activity.
Two other benefits of the ketogenic diet are an increase of free fatty acids in blood levels and a decrease in the fluctuation of blood sugar levels.
Strictly speaking, a ketogenic diet refers to being in the state of ketosis. In this state, the body changes how it metabolises macronutrients. However, it seems that ketosis isn’t as important in the reduction of seizure activity as the increase in fatty acid levels and the stabilization of our blood sugar levels. It’s comforting to know we don’t have to be perfect with this challenging diet to experience the benefits of seizure control.
- Marijuana or CBD: In functional medicine circles marijuana is often used for co-treatment of seizures. However the use of marijuana to co-treat seizures should be done with the guidance of your child’s neurologist or epileptologist. Cannabinoids can affect the way our liver processes other things (like seizure medicine) which may affect the way those medicines work.
Be sure your provider knows you’re using marijuana or CBD to co-treat your child’s seizures so he or she can monitor its effects on any other treatments. Currently, there are no long term studies on marijuana’s effects on children’s brains. So, we don’t know enough to get a good picture of the risk versus the benefit of its use in the treatment of epilepsy and seizure disorders.
What to Do During Your Child’s Seizure
Witnessing a seizure can be a scary thing. It’s hard to know what to do and, unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about how to intervene during a seizure. When your child is having a seizure, safety is of the utmost importance. You can’t stop a seizure but you can keep them safe. Here’s how:
- Move them away from falling risks.
- Slide a pillow under their head.
- Put them on their side with the top leg bent.
- NEVER put anything in their mouth.
- Watch the clock so you can report how long the seizure lasted. If it lasts more than 5 minutes, call 9-1-1.
I worked on a seizure and epilepsy unit in a large hospital in Chicago for many years. As a result, I’ve had lots of experiences helping individuals with seizures of all ages. What I learned during this time is how disorienting and scary a seizure is, not only for those witnessing it, but also for the person experiencing it.
After the seizure, during the recovery period, I would make sure the patient knew who I was and knew where they were. It’s important to let your child know they’re ok and provide them with a sense of security so they know they’re safe.
Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing a great job.
I hope this information has been helpful to you as part of creating Your Autism Game Plan.
Do you have a topic you’d like to learn more about? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org