Another study has confirmed that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are linked to gut disturbances in children. The largest study of its kind investigated nearly 1,000 children enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study in Northern California between April 2003 and May 2011.
The children were aged between 24 and 60 months when the study was conducted with half of the study population white and one third Hispanic and is one of the largest ethnically diverse study of its kinds. Autistic children were six to eight times more likely to display upsets such as constipation, diarrhea and sensitivity to foods overwhelmingly related to behavioral problems, including social withdrawal, irritability and repetitive behaviors, the characteristics that define autism spectrum disorders.
“Parents of children with autism have long said that their kids endure more GI problems, but little has been known about the true prevalence of these complications or their underlying causes,” said Virginia Chaidez, the lead study author who was a postdoctoral student in the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences at the time of the study.
“The GI problems they experience may be bidirectional,” Chaidez said. “GI problems may create behavior problems, and those behavior problems may create or exacerbate GI problems. One way to try to tease this out would be to begin investigating the effects of various treatments and their effects on both GI symptoms and problem behaviors.”
“After years of parents raising concerns about such symptoms, the huge differences we see between parental reports on children with autism spectrum disorder versus those on children with typical development puts to rest the idea that gastrointestinal problems among children with autism spectrum disorder are just an accumulation of case reports,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, principal investigator for the CHARGE Study and a researcher affiliated with the MIND Institute. “Our data clearly show that gastrointestinal problems are very common in children with autism.”
Among parents of children with autism, those who reported their child had abdominal pain, gaseousness/bloating, constipation and diarrhea also significantly more frequently noted irritability, social withdrawal, repetitive behavior and hyperactivity than did those without GI symptoms. The only behavior problem that was associated with a GI problem in children with developmental delay was hyperactivity and only among those children with diarrhea.
The study authors suggest that the pain, discomfort and anxiety of chronic GI symptoms could contribute to the diagnostic criteria for ASD as social withdrawal, hyperactivity and repetitive behaviors may represent coping mechanisms for the physical discomfort.
Virginia Chaidez, Robin L. Hansen, Irva Hertz-Picciotto. Gastrointestinal Problems in Children with Autism, Developmental Delays or Typical Development. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2013; DOI: 10.1007/s10803-013-1973-x