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How to Recognize Absence Seizures in Children With Autism

Absence seizures are caused by electrical misfiring in the brain and typically do not involve a loss of consciousness. However, a person who has experienced an absence seizure is unlikely to remember the seizure or what occurred during the seizure. Many of the symptoms of an absence seizure -- lack of eye contact or small automatic movements, for example -- are also common symptoms of autism spectrum disorders 2. This makes it difficult to tell when a child with autism is experiencing an absence seizure. Do not attempt to self-diagnose seizure disorders -- consult your doctor for specific medical advice and diagnosis.

Watch for signs of an absence seizure. Symptoms commonly include a vacant stare, staying still in a position, smacking the lips, fluttering of the eyelids, chewing and making small movements with both arms or the hands.

Early Warning Signs of a Seizure

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Distinguish which symptoms of an absence seizure are not usual symptoms of your child's autism spectrum disorder. Eyelid fluttering, for example, is not a typical symptom of autism. However, automatic movements, avoidance of eye contact and lip smacking are all common in children with autism.

Keep a seizure diary of suspected absence seizures. Note the day, time and duration of each suspected seizure, together with any factors that may have precipitated a seizure. Tiredness, recent waking, certain foods, caffeine, alcohol, computer or TV screens, strobes or the menstrual cycle act as seizure triggers for some people. Your seizure diary will help a neurologist see any patterns in seizure activity.

Abnormal Eye and Head Movements in Children

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Have your doctor or neurologist schedule diagnostic testing. An electroencephalograph, or EEG, is a test that measures brain waves via sensors attached to the scalp. If your child experiences an absence seizure during an EEG, brain activity related to the seizure will be recorded. This allows your doctor to diagnose absence seizures specifically.


If your child can communicate verbally or non-verbally, she may be able to tell you when she feels a seizure coming on. If she tells you that she doesn't remember a period of time when you suspect a seizure occurred, this indicates an absence seizure likely happened.


You should seek emergency medical care the first time your child has a suspected seizure or if any suspected seizure lasts for more than five minutes.