Anxiety and other disorders common in children with autism

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 88 children has been diagnosed with autism in the United States alone.  A researcher at the University of Missouri conducted a new study and found that children who have ASD may also suffer from chronic gastrointestial problems, anxiety and abnormal sensory responses, which are intensified reactions to sound, light or certain textures.  These reactions seem to be closely related and effect the children’s lives on a daily basis at home and in school.

Assistant professor of health psychology and a clinical child psychologist, Micah Mazurek, found in her study of 2,973 children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder that about a quarter of them also had chronic gastrointestinal  problems, such as constipation, abdominal pain, bloating or nausea. Micah’s results also concluded that children with these problems experienced sensory problems and anxiety.

“These problems can have a very real impact on daily life. Children with anxiety may be distressed or reluctant to engage in new activities, and those with sensory problems may have trouble paying attention or participating in over-stimulating environments,” Mazurek said. “These children may also suffer uncomfortable GI problems that they may not be able to communicate about to adults.”

Clinicians should be educated about the occurrence of problems, such as GI problems and sensory sensitivity, in individuals with ASD. Managing these coexisting issues effectively may improve the child’s quality of life and their responses to treatment, Mazurek said.

“Parents need to be aware that these problems may underlie some of their children’s difficulties, so if they notice any symptoms, they should talk to their doctors or therapists about treatment options,” Mazurek said. “Practitioners who work with children with autism need to be mindful that there is a pretty high rate of these problems, so if children are treated for one issue, it may helpful to screen for these additional symptoms.”

This study is the first to examine the relationships between anxiety, GI problems and sensory responses in a large model of children and adolescents with ASD.  Participants in the study were enrolled in the Autism Treatment Network, a network of 17 autism centers throughout North America that are focused on best practices for medical treatment of children with ASD.

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