Many children who have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also experience anxiety, chronic gastrointestinal (GI) problems and atypical sensory responses (more severe reactions to light, sound or textures), according to a researcher at the University of Missouri.
This was the first study to investigate the relationships among anxiety, GI problems and sensory over-responsivity in a large, nationally representative sample of children and teens with ASD.
In the study of 2,973 ASD children and teens, researchers found that nearly one-fourth also had chronic GI problems, such as constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea or nausea.
Furthermore, children with chronic GI problems were more likely to experience anxiety and sensory problems.
“These problems can have a very real impact on daily life. Children with anxiety may be distressed or reluctant to engage in new activities, and those with sensory problems may have trouble paying attention or participating in over-stimulating enviornments,” said Micah Mazurek, Ph.D., an assistant professor of health psychology and a clinical child psychologist.
“These children may also suffer uncomfortable GI problems that they may not be able to communicate about to adults.”
Doctors should be aware that anxiety, GI problems and sensory sensitivity often co-occur in people with ASD. Effectively managing these comorbid disorders may enhance a child’s quality of life and the response to treatment, Mazurek said.
“Parents need to be aware that these problems may underlie some of their children’s difficulties, so if they notice any symptoms, they should talk to their doctors or therapists about treatment options,” Mazurek said.
“Practitioners who work with children with ASD need to be mindful that there is a pretty high rate of these problems, so if children are treated for one issue, it may helpful to screen for these additional symptoms.”
Participants in the study were enrolled in the Autism Treatment Network, which consists of 17 autism centers throughout North America.