Parents reveal that children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) often face gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, such as diarrhea and constipation.
In a new study by Autism Speaks' Autism Treatment Network (ATN), researchers have show that GI symptoms occur in nearly half of children with ASD, and the prevalence increases as children get older.
The ATN enrolls patients ages 2-18 years with a diagnosis of autism, Asperger's syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified.
In the study, researchers wanted to find out how frequently parents of children enrolled in the network reported GI symptoms and what factors might be associated with these symptoms.
Families filled out a battery of questionnaires, including a GI symptom inventory tailored to the needs of nonverbal children, a behaviour checklist, sleep questionnaire and quality of life survey.
Data from 1,185 children showed that 45 percent had GI symptoms at the time of enrollment, with abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea reported most commonly.
Reports of symptoms were more common in older children (39 percent of children under 5 years of age vs. 51 percent of children 7 and older).
In addition, children with GI symptoms had a higher rate of sleep problems than those without GI issues (70 percent vs. 30 percent), more behaviour problems and an overall lower health-related quality of life.
No relationship was found between GI symptoms and type of autism, gender, race or IQ.
"These findings suggest that better evaluation of GI symptoms and subsequent treatment may have benefits for these patients. Primary care physicians and specialists should ask families about these symptoms and address these as part of the overall management plan for the child or adolescent with ASD," said Daniel Coury, medical director of the ATN and professor of paediatrics and psychiatry at The Ohio State University.
Results of the study will be presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.