Autism: Seizures & Social Behaviour

Dr Shelley Hyman

There has been much research linking autism symptoms and seizures. Almost 30% of people with autism have seizures as well. To date, most of the research has placed greater emphasis on the effects of seizures on deficits related to learning and memory. It has been recently suggested that perhaps early-life seizures may in fact have something to do with social deficits seen in people, especially children, with autism.

It has been explained that developing brain networks linked with communication and social behavior are disrupted by epileptic seizures (Deonna & Roulet, 2006). Studies on humans have only looked at this relationship through interviewing and questionnaires (Smith & Matson, 2010). However, a recent study by Lugo, Swann, and Anderson (2014) looked to model this phenomenon in mice.

The researchers investigated the impact inducing seizures would have on mice regarding learning and memory, and social and repetitious behaviors. Seven day-old mice were administered with flurothyl (a chemical that induces seizures) 3 times a day for 5 days. They chose to induce seizures in early-life as it has been shown that children who have a seizure before they turn 1 year-old are more susceptible to develop an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Unlike control pups, mice induced with seizures tended not to respond to and interact with an unfamiliar mouse compared to a familiar one in the social partition test.

Seizure-induced mice also spent more time with a Lego block, of the same dimensions as a mouse, placed in a cylinder rather than a mouse that was also placed in another cylinder, in the three-chamber social approach task. The mice did have difficulties finding a hidden platform in a water maze task, signs of impairment in spatial learning and memory, their general learning and memory were demonstrated to be intact during a fear conditioning task that required learning associations between a shock and a tone.

The researchers also did not find repetitive behaviors in their task of marble burying. Thus these results, though modeled in mice, suggest a more direct relationship between deficits in social behaviors and seizures in children and adults with autism.


Julie Ta



  • Deonna, T., & Roulet, E. (2006). Autism spectrum disorder: Evaluating a possible contributing or causal role of epilepsy. Epilepsia, 47(2), 79-82.
  • Lugo, J. N., Swann, J. W., & Anderson, A. E. (2014). Early-life seizures result in deficits in social behavior and learning. Experimental Neurology, 256, 74-80.
  • Smith, K. R. M.,& Matson, J. L. (2010). Social skills: Differences among adults with intellectual disabilities, co-morbid autism spectrum disorders and epilepsy. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 31, 1366-1372.


Dr Shelley Hyman

About Dr Shelley Hyman

Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist. BSc (psychol) Hons, MClinNeuropsych, PhD (Med) MAPS CCN. Founder and director of the centre that was founded in 2006.

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