Seizures in the Autistic Adolescent: Our Personal Experience

Merely Me Health Guide
  • On a November evening my son, Max was resting in our big round living room chair. My husband and eldest son, Michael, were working on algebra homework in an adjacent room. I was upstairs folding some laundry. Michael heard something strange he had never heard before coming from Max. It sounded like he was gurgling or even choking. My husband raced into the living room. Max was lying there in an odd position as though he had fallen into the chair. He was still making the odd gurgling sound and his throat was constricting in a strange rhythm. Max was not awake but he wasn’t asleep either. It appeared that he was unconscious and his breathing was extremely shallow. My husband’s attempts to get Max to respond were unsuccessful. My fifteen year old son was as lifeless and floppy as a large rag doll. And the color of his face was turning grey and blue around the lips.

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    Because Max has anaphylaxis (a life threatening allergic response to peanuts) we keep an epi-pen on hand at all times. We had never used it in all these years. That night my husband used it for the first time, thinking that if this were an allergic response that we needed to act fast. As he was injecting the epi-pen  into Max’s thigh (this releases epinephrine which reverses the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction) my eldest son called for me to come downstairs. I had no clue that this emergency had been going on. When I came onto the scene I saw blood on Max and on my husband. It seemed my husband had injected the epi-pen with too much force.


    My husband was yelling for my eldest son to call 9-1-1. Max was unresponsive to the epi-pen injection and we were being instructed by the phone operator to lay him on his side and check for breathing. Max was breathing but very shallowly. My husband was ready to begin CPR but as soon as he began to give breaths, Max began to push him away and he was finally showing signs of being responsive. At this time the paramedics came in full force.


    The time period between when I saw Max unconscious and when the paramedics arrived seemed like an eternity when in fact, it was most likely minutes. It was like the movies when voices seem muted and everything is viewed in slow motion. It was like I stepped outside of my body to witness what I could not comprehend. What could be happening to my son?


    About four paramedics came into our living room all with a purpose. One EMT was checking Max’s blood sugar level while another did an EKG for his heart. Another one talked to me and the fourth paramedic talked to my husband. Despite the siren sound and the commotion of so many people coming into our home, Max was confused and out of it. He curled up on the chair with a blanket around him. But now he had color to his face and his breathing had resumed to a regular pattern. Max’s heart was fine. His blood sugar level was normal. His blood pressure was slightly affected but not enough to cause this.


    The paramedics asked questions to get to the cause of Max’s symptoms. They did not see any rash or hives indicating an allergic response. We searched all around the room for anything he might have choked on or a peanut product. There was nothing. Then one of the medics asked if Max had ever had a seizure.  I said no but that he does see a neurologist and that he has autism. The paramedics stayed with us until Max was more responsive and could speak to us. All he wanted to do was to sleep.


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    The lead paramedic suggested that we contact Max’s neurologist as he suspected that this may have been seizure activity but only our doctor could know for sure with the right tests. I was stunned. Seizures? I had seen many seizures in my life as I was an instructor for adults with multiple disabilities prior to staying home with my boys. I was used to seeing convulsions. But what I saw that night did not make sense to me. Some of my confusion was most likely due to the fact that I walked into the last part of the incident. There were a lot of missing pieces I frantically tried to assemble in my mind.  I made some guesses at what this could be.  Did he faint? Was this sleep apnea? Or could it have been a seizure as the medic suggested?


    Seeing my son so unresponsive and lifeless is an image I will not soon forget. It was a frightening night for us all with the exception of Max who had no memory of it the next day.


    It turns out that Max did have a seizure that night.


    In my next post I am going to describe the possible signs and symptoms of a seizure. You may be surprised, as we were that not all seizures look alike. There are many variations.


    This is the first post of a four-part series on the topic of seizures and autism.  Beyond the medical text book descriptions of epilepsy and autism there are real people who are living and coping with having both of these disorders. We hope to provide you with the information and support you need to help your loved one with autism. We welcome you to share your stories and personal experiences. Your input is of great value to us.


    You may read more about Max and me on our blog:  The Autism Express

Published On: December 31, 2011