Autism and Severe Epilepsy

Autism and severe epilepsy are two conditions linked to brain function, which can affect a person's ability to not only learn in a classroom, but also how he or she functions in the world. Many students with autism or severe epilepsy are taught in classrooms led by special education degree holders. While professionals sometimes find it hard to define, autism is an all-encompassing developmental disorder that affects about one in 500 children. Autism usually begins before the age of three. One source of controversy in the definition of autism focuses on the closely related Asperger's syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). Experts do not agree on whether these conditions are completely separate disabilities or merely different types of autism. Because of this disagreement and the limited knowledge on what causes these disabilities, how to best treat them is also in dispute. Autism characteristics include noticeable delays and deficiencies in the ability to communicate, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, and an inability to relate to others or function well in social situations. Autism is now more commonly known as autism spectrum disorder.

Epilepsy is a seizure disorder in which there is a brief but strong surge of electrical impulse or activity that affects some or all of the brain. A seizure can last from as little as a few seconds to as long as a few minutes. Not every seizure is the same. There can be convulsions, a complete loss of consciousness, blank staring, the smacking of lips, fainting spells, odd sounds, distorted perceptions, and/or the jerking of limbs. A person is diagnosed as having epilepsy when they have more than two unprovoked seizures. While there are treatments for epilepsy like medication, surgery, and dietary changes, some children with epilepsy, especially those with severe epilepsy, find that their ability to learn is affected. For example, episodes of blackout or fixed staring can cause a student to miss what is being taught in class. Issues of memory and concentration can also influence learning.

Last Updated: 05/07/2014

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