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Study Confirms Tummy Issues More Common In Kids With Autism


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Children with autism are four times more likely than other kids to experience gastrointestinal troubles, researchers say in a new study providing the largest look ever at the issue.

Digestive problems like constipation and diarrhea are three times more common and complaints of abdominal pain occur twice as often in those with the developmental disorder, researchers say.

The findings reported online this week in the journal Pediatrics are based on a comprehensive review of medical research on the topic published in peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1980 and 2012.

“Our findings corroborate a history of anecdotal reports and case studies suggesting increased risk of GI concerns in autism,” said William Sharp of the Marcus Autism Center and Emory University School of Medicine who co-authored the study.

It’s unclear what’s leading to a greater prevalence of gastrointestinal problems in children with autism and it’s tough to spot the issues given that such children often have difficulty communicating and may turn to behaviors like self-injury, aggression and irritability when experiencing digestive difficulties, the researchers said.

“Relying on these atypical signs to detect possible GI concerns can be difficult for practitioners because repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior occur so frequently in ASD and no guidelines exist to help parents and clinicians navigate the diagnostic process,” said Barbara McElhanon, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine who worked on the review.

Accordingly, the researchers said their findings point to a need for standardized screening methods and clinical guidelines to be established to help health care providers spot gastrointestinal issues in kids with autism.

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Comments (15 Responses)

  1. GT says:

    Tummy issue? Are you kidding? Let’s try severely painful and often debilitating gut issues that affect behaviors and a wide range of health issues.

  2. Dadvocate says:

    “Tummy”? Please change the headline. A lot of folks with ASD face serious GI issues. Your choice of words seems pretty dismissive of the challenges involved. Buie et al have been publishing on this topic for years. Thank you.

  3. Whitney says:

    Poor choice of words. It takes a serious makes seem so unimportant and trivial, it is very insulting at the same time. I agree with the two posters change headline that fits to serious issue at hand.

  4. autismparent says:

    I agree with Dadvocate and GT, please change the headline as it trivializing this. Many autistic kids genuinely suffer from chronic debilitating GI pain. “Tummy issues” thats like saying Marie Antoinette had a scratch on her neck

  5. Stomach Problems says:

    I am a special education teacher, my students are mostly with ASD and I can really feel their pain. Most of them really encounter digestive disorder. It’s no joke because they can’t say how they exactly feel.


  6. Rayne says:

    Since birth my son (now 19 years) experienced on going GI issues, even Neuro ped doctors dismissed these issues as “withholding” and not food allergies or sensitivities. After years of frustration I finally removed Dairy, Wheat and Gluten and was amazed by how well my son responded, he even started making more frequent eye contact and verbal communication within a week of removing these foods.

    The dietary needs of ASD are not new and I’m still amazed how doctors still have no firm grasp on this concept. As for the wording choice, I think “tummy” more of an endearing word, more appropriate when speaking to adolescents than those of us dealing with the traumatic issues caused by GI problems. I don’t always agree with the way articles are written by DS but I don’t think they should be accused of “trivializing” disability issues. We have bigger issues than attacking the messengers.

  7. Rosella A. Alm-Ahearn says:

    After a year of on and off of hospitalization, and three laparotomies under pavulon, (a paralytic medication) and on a ventilator, yes I would say too that tummy issues is a trivialized way to describe the agony of a person with autism. My son suffered all this and more in the winter of 1989.

  8. Beth T. says:

    I agree with the comments so far! Using the word tummy is inappropriate. Being the mother of a child with non-specific colitis, I can say from experience that gut issues are no laughing matter. I say we all make an effort to get this word out and inform and educate other parents and pediatricians! They need to know the truth!

  9. PBMom says:

    This is hysterical because Dr. Andrew Wakefield found this relationship did exist in his study in England (and then was crucified because they claimed he said MMR caused autism when, if anybody actually read the conclusions from his study, he did not say in that study. But because Emory is an institution with a fantastic reputation, no one will question it (nor should they).

  10. JP says:

    For a while parents thought the gluten free diet was helping lessen the symptoms of autism. This diet may have worked because some children with autism will have less upset GI issues because of the diet.

  11. Tara says:

    Dr wakefield was correct when he discovered bowel disease in children that just happened to be autistic.

    They had their mmr shot.
    Then the pain began.
    I see the connection clearly.

  12. howard miller says:

    miller – …and avoid the use of medications which have diuretic effects (most antipsychotics and anticonvulsants) which lead to not only bowel problems but galloping caries as well although docs seem loathe to share this information. If you have ‘dry mouth’ expect all of the above.

  13. Katherine M. Martin says:

    “Tummy” implies stomach and presumes parents are imbeciles! Tim Buie, MD, Mass General in Boston has been in the forefront for 20+ years. Only recently has the American Academy of Pediatrics embraced his research. Alex Flores, MD Pedi GI Children’s Hsp Boston is an international expert in motilty disorders which disproportonately affect kids with ASD.

    My 19 yo son has been Alex’s patient for 16 years and nine surgeries. Recently my 7 yo godson became a patient after 5 years screwing around with a clueless pedi gi who said he was ASD so give hm Miralax. First visit to Alex found him 80% impacted. He too has a motility disorder and will have surgery in June. A friend with 2 daughters with ASD see Dr. Buie.
    There is most defnitely a gut brain connection – not simply GF cure but complex disorders that must receive expert care. DO NOT MINIMIZE the impact this has on children and teens with ASD!!

  14. Donna Titze says:

    Rayne says, “I don’t always agree with the way articles are written by DS but I don’t think they should be accused of “trivializing” disability issues. We have bigger issues than attacking the messengers.”

    Dear Rayne, Perhaps you have not lived with the severity of GI issues my child has suffered so greatly with for 25 years. Perhaps your experience has not been a living, waking nightmare, experienced by many parents’ of children suffering horribly with GI issues, with no help or intervention from the medical professionals. Perhaps you have not lived through hospital admissions and emergency room visits resulting in nothing more than our suffering children restrained for days with leather straps, prone in a bed, treated like a wild animal because their bodies are so racked with pain they can do nothing but thrash and scream. Doctors say to mom and dad, “Oh, he is autistic; just face it, this is how they act” to justify their refusal to run tests on the child.
    No, none of these parent comments here “trivialize” anything. They speak of their own ‘reality’ with their own choice of words. I am truly happy that a GFCF diet has helped your child. Unfortunately, many of our children have suffered with intense GI issues for such a long time, diet alone does not address the damage done. If anyone is trivializing or attacking the messenger(s) here, my dear, it would be you. In my opinion, every doubter and critic of Dr. Andrew Wakefield should get down on their knees and ask forgiveness for their blatant neglect of real science, which has resulted in years of neglect of our very ill children. Had they done their own research and investigations more than a decade ago many of our children and families could have been spared lives of agony. Now, let’s see how quickly they jump on this (new?? how insulting to informed doctors.) research…….I’m certainly not holding my breath. Everything useful and helpful for our children has ALWAYS been parent driven; so forgive them if it seems to you they are attacking. We are tired and have been abandoned by much of the medical field; we have earned the right to vent our opinions and frustrations!

  15. vvvvvvv says:

    ignoring the poor word choices, i as an adult asd person can say Yep this is definitely an issue, and it’s absolutely awful

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