A new study has shown that children with autism suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) upsets such as constipation, diarrhea and sensitivity to foods six-to-eight times more often than other children.
The study conducted at the UC Davis MIND Institute has found that these stomach problems in autistic children are related to behavioral problems such as social withdrawal, irritability, and repetitive behaviors.
Parents of children with autism have often commented on their children having more GI problems than children without autism, but it has never been known how prevalent the problem is. This study’s data has now proven that GI problems are very common in children with autism.
“GI problems may create behavior problems, and those behavior problems may create or exacerbate GI problems,” Virginia Chaidez, the lead author of the study explained.
The parents of the children being studied filled out two questionnaires—one about their children’s GI history and one about their behavior. The GI questionnaire measured abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and difficulty swallowing and the behavior checklist took into account challenging behaviors like irritability, lethargy/social withdrawal, repetitive behaviors, hyperactivity and inappropriate speech.
The results showed that parents of children with autism were six-to-eight times more likely to report frequent bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and sensitivity to food than parents of typically developing children. Parents who reported these GI symptoms in their autistic children also much more frequently noted irritability, social withdrawal, repetitive behavior and hyperactivity in their children than those without GI symptoms did.
The results of this study suggest that a chronic GI symptom could contribute to increased irritability and social withdrawal because it causes pain, discomfort and anxiety. This especially could create this behavior in children who struggle with social and communication skills. Researchers explain that for autistic children, hyperactivity and repetitive behaviors may be coping mechanisms for the physical comfort that they are experiencing from GI upsets.
The researchers emphasize that understanding the impact of GI problems in children with autism is important because this could provide new insight into more effective autism treatments that could decrease GI difficulties. It’s possible that there could then be some improvement in behavioral problems.
A new member of the ICare4Autism, Dr. Arthur Krigsman, is an expert in this field, recently publishing his findings that suggest children with autism and other related developmental disabilities who show chronic gastrointestinal symptoms also “demonstrate ileal or colonic inflammation upon light microscopic examination of biopsy tissue.”
By: Rachel Schranck