Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at increased risk gastrointestinal (GI) problems, reports a new study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Many parents have found that their children with ASD experience unusual levels of GI distress. The study confirms the suspicions of many parents of children with ASD. The researchers found that children with ASD have 2.5 times the odds of persistent GI symptoms in infancy compared to typically developing infants.
Data for the study came from a longitudinal survey of Norwegian mothers. The mothers were asked about GI disturbances that their children experienced in the first three years of life. They completed the questionnaires when their children were between the ages of 18 and 36 months.
The mothers of children diagnosed with ASD were more likely to report that their children had more GI symptoms than mothers of typically developing children. Children with ASD were found to have higher odds of constipation and food allergy/intolerance between ages 6 to 18 months. Children with ASD aged 18 to 36 months were found to have higher odds of diarrhea, constipation, and food allergy/intolerance.
Children with ASD were also more likely to have GI symptoms than children with a developmental delay. This suggests that GI issues are not secondary to developmental delays, but are, in fact, associated with ASD.
“We not only learned that these symptoms appeared early in infancy; we also found that children with ASD were at significantly increased risk for these symptoms to persist compared with typically developing children,” explains first author of the study Michaeline Bresnahan, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology.
The researchers caution that not all children with GI symptoms will develop ASD and that not all children with ASD have GI issues as children. The findings could help researchers to identify a subset of people with ASD who require clinical support for GI issues.
This research is published in JAMA Psychiatry.
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