In children with autism, repetitive behaviors and gastrointestinal problems may be related, new research shows.
The study found that increased severity of other autism symptoms was also linked to more severe constipation, stomach pain, and other intestinal problems.
The research, which appears in the journal Autism, found no association between social and communication problems and gastrointestinal symptoms.
The study does not explain the biological mechanism for the relationship between repetitive behaviors, such as rocking and flapping the hand, and intestinal problems. But it helps establish that gastrointestinal symptoms can exacerbate repetitive behaviors, or vice versa, a finding that could one day lead to helpful interventions, said Payal Chakraborty, a graduate student at Ohio State University College of Public Health who led the investigation.
Children with autism spectrum disorder are more likely than their normally developing peers to experience a range of gastrointestinal abnormalities, including chronic diarrhea, constipation, food sensitivities, and abdominal pain. These symptoms have been associated with higher levels of irritability and aggressive behavior, but less is known about their relationship to other symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.
“In the general population, there is a fair amount of evidence on the link between mood and mental disorders and gastrointestinal problems. In autism, we wonder whether the intestinal problems children experience are a core part of the disease itself, or whether they are caused by it. by other symptoms that children with autism experience, “Chakraborty said.
Chakraborty began the study as a student at Duke University, where she worked at the Center for Autism and Brain Development, and became interested in the potential link between the gut and other features of the developmental disorder.
Using data from a study designed to test the viability of umbilical cord blood transplants as an autism treatment, Chakraborty looked at detailed clinical measurements and reports from the families of 176 children aged 2 to 7 years old to see if she could find any insight into the causes of gastrointestinal problems. Almost all children, 93%, had at least one gastrointestinal symptom.
“GI problems are a significant problem for many people with autism and there is some evidence that these symptoms can exacerbate certain autism behaviors, leading to greater developmental problems,” she said.
The details of the relationship are unclear, but it’s possible that repetitive behaviors in children with autism could be a coping mechanism that helps them manage their gastrointestinal discomfort, Chakraborty said, adding that autism symptoms often show up in a time when children are not. in a position to adequately communicate their physical suffering with words.
“Gastrointestinal problems are a major concern for many children with autism and we still have a lot to learn about the complicated gut / brain axis,” she said.
Other researchers who collaborated on the study include Kimberly Carpenter, Samantha Major, Saritha Vermeer, Brianna Herold, Lauren Franz, Jill Howard, and Geraldine Dawson, all from Duke University, and Megan Deaver from Eastern Virginia Medical School.
Material provided by Ohio University. Originally written by Misti Crane. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.