Epilepsy and the Developmentally Disabled

All developmental disabilities and many epilepsy syndromes begin in childhood. However, both often persist into adolescence and adulthood. Among patients with epilepsy, the presence of a developmental disability predicts a more difficult road for the patient, the patient’s family and caregivers. Sixty-nine percent of children with epilepsy and mental handicap have at least one additional diagnosis:

  • Cerebral palsy (CP)
  • Autism
  • Visual impairment

Individuals with developmental disabilities and epilepsy have:

  • higher rates of seizure recurrence after a first seizure
  • lower rates of “outgrowing” epilepsy
  • higher rates of sudden unexpected death after adolescence and possibly in childhood

Causes of Developmental Disabilities and Epilepsy

The range of metabolic, genetic, and acquired causes of developmental disabilities is vast. The relationship between the etiology of the disability and epilepsy may be complex, although in most cases, a single underlying brain abnormality or insult to the brain causes both disorders.