Gastrointestinal Symptoms
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Gastrointestinal disorders and associated symptoms are commonly reported in individuals with ASDs, however, it can be difficult to recognize and characterize gastrointestinal dysfunction due to the communication difficulties experienced by many affected individuals. Watch this presentation by Dr. Alessio Fasano, pediatric gastroenterologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMDSOM), from a recent ARI Conference discussing the impact of GI problems in children with ASD.

Emerging research is aimed at developing recommendations for diagnostic evaluation and management of gastrointestinal problems for individuals on the spectrum. Valicenti-McDermott, 2006, evaluated children with ASD and two control groups matched for age, sex and ethnicity (one with non-autism-related developmental disorders, and the other developmentally normal).  There were 50 children in each group – findings concluded:

  • 70% of the children with ASD had GI Issues compared to 42% of the children with developmental disorder other than ASD
  • 28% of children with typical development.

Just like everyone else, people with autism may suffer:

  • Gastritis
  • GERD
  • Colitis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Constipation
  • Motility-based disorders
  • Food allergy and sensitivity
  • Overgrowth syndromes

Food allergy in this population is common - food allergy can affect any site in the GI tract. Research points to the following food allergy prevalence rates in children:

  • 5-8% of neurotypical children without autism (Sampson, 1999) suffer  food allergies
  • 36% of autistic children (Lucarelli, 1995) suffer food allergies

If your child complains of stomachaches, or if he/she adopts unusual positions to put pressure on his/her lower abdomen, try to identify underlying conditions when possible.  Baseline testing might help identify factors such as infection, allergy or food sensitivity, and evidence for constipation.

Learn more

  • Impaired Carbohydrate Digestion and Transport and Mucosal Dysbiosis in the Intestines of Children with Autism and Gastrointestinal Disturbances
  • Autoimmune and gastrointestinal dysfunctions: does a subset of children with autism reveal a broader connection?
  • Expert Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2011 Aug;5(4):465-77. Autoimmune and gastrointestinal dysfunctions: does a subset of children with autism reveal a broader connection? Brown AC, Mehl-Madrona L.Source: Department of Complementary & Alternative Medicine, John A Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 651 Ilalo Street, Honolulu, HI 96813, USA amybrown@hawaii.edu
    Abstract:A large number of autoimmune disorders have a gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction component that may interplay with genetic, hormonal, environmental and/or stress factors. This narrarive review investigates possible links between autism, immune system abnormalities and GI symptoms in a subgroup of children with autism. A literature search on Medline (1950 to September 2010) was conducted to identify relevant articles by using the keywords 'autism and gastrointestinal' (71 publications) and 'autism and immune' (237 publications), cross-referencing and general searching to evaluate the available literature on the immunological and GI aspects of autism. Sufficient evidence exists to support that a subgroup of children with autism may suffer from concomitant immune-related GI symptoms.