Food and Behaviour Research

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26 March 2015 - MNT - Evidence many young children with autism show gut symptoms

Markus MacGill

Mothers of infants aged up to 3 years who have autism are more likely to report the children have gastrointestinal symptoms of constipation, diarrhea and food allergy or intolerance, finds a study collecting 10 years of prospective data.

Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms reported by mothers were more common and more frequently persistent in the babies and small children with autism spectrum disorder than either in those with "typical" development for the age group, or in those with developmental delay.

The authors believe their study is the first examination of a population to prospectively report GI symptoms and disorders in a comparison between children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those with typical development (TD) or developmental delay (DD).

Their aim was to "address the specific question of whether children with ASD are at greater risk of experiencing GI disturbances" than the other two groups in the large birth cohort of over 41,000 children followed from the age of 6 months through 36 months.

The research - by Michaeline Bresnahan, PhD, of Columbia University, New York, and co-authors - found that children with ASD, most of whom had been diagnosed in a research clinic, were, compared with children with TD:

  • More likely to have constipation and food allergy/intolerance reported by their mothers in the 6- to 18-months age range
  • More likely to have diarrhea, constipation and food allergy/intolerance in the 18- to 36-months range.

The authors, in addition to concluding that gastrointestinal difficulties were more frequent, conclude that they were more stubborn:

"Furthermore, the GI symptoms may be more persistent in children with ASD.

The potential for under-recognition and undertreatment of GI dysfunction in the context of a complicated developmental picture is real."

"Treatments that address GI symptoms," the authors say, "may significantly contribute to the wellbeing of children with ASD and may be useful in reducing difficult behaviors."