Epilepsy surgery in patients with autism

Malgosia A. Kokoszka, Patricia E. McGoldrick, Maite La Vega-Talbott, Hillary Raynes, Christina A. Palmese, Steven M. Wolf, Cynthia L. Harden, Saadi Ghatan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to report outcomes of epilepsy surgery in 56 consecutive patients with autism spectrum disorder. METHODS: Medical records of 56 consecutive patients with autism who underwent epilepsy surgery were reviewed with regard to clinical characteristics, surgical management, postoperative seizure control, and behavioral changes. RESULTS: Of the 56 patients with autism, 39 were male, 45 were severely autistic, 27 had a history of clinically significant levels of aggression and other disruptive behaviors, and 30 were considered nonverbal at baseline. Etiology of the epilepsy was known in 32 cases, and included structural lesions, medical history, and developmental and genetic factors. Twenty-nine patients underwent resective treatments (in 8 cases combined with palliative procedures), 24 patients had only palliative treatments, and 3 patients had only subdural electroencephalography. Eighteen of the 56 patients had more than one operation. The mean age at surgery was 11 ± 6.5 years (range 1.5-35 years). At a mean follow-up of 47 ± 30 months (range 2-117 months), seizure outcomes included 20 Engel Class I, 12 Engel Class II, 18 Engel Class III, and 3 Engel Class IV cases. The age and follow-up times are stated as the mean ± SD. Three patients were able to discontinue all antiepileptic drugs (AEDs). Aggression and other aberrant behaviors observed in the clinical setting improved in 24 patients. According to caregivers, most patients also experienced some degree of improvement in daily social and cognitive function. Three patients had no functional or behavioral changes associated with seizure reduction, and 2 patients experienced worsening of seizures and behavioral symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: Epilepsy surgery in patients with autism is feasible, with no indication that the comorbidity of autism should preclude a good outcome. Resective and palliative treatments brought seizure freedom or seizure reduction to the majority of patients, although one-third of the patients in this study required more than one procedure to achieve worthwhile improvement in the long term, and few patients were able to discontinue all AEDs. The number of palliative procedures performed, the need for multiple interventions, and continued use of AEDs highlight the complex etiology of epilepsy in patients with autism spectrum disorder. These considerations underscore the need for continued analysis, review, and reporting of surgical outcomes in patients with autism, which may aid in better identification and management of surgical candidates. The reduction in aberrant behaviors observed in this series suggests that some behaviors previously attributed to autism may be associated with intractable epilepsy, and further highlights the need for systematic evaluation of the relationship between the symptoms of autism and refractory seizures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-207
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • ASD
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Corpus callosotomy
  • Epilepsy
  • Neuromodulation
  • Palliative
  • Resective
  • VNS
  • Vagus nerve stimulator


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