Autistic children may be more likely than other children to have problems with their gastrointestinal system while they are young. This finding comes from a study of more than 44,600 children in Norway.
Researchers from the United States and Norway looked for three types of gastrointestinal problems in 195 autistic children, 4,600 children with developmental delays, and more than 40,000 children who were developing normally. The children were part of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. The problems they looked at included diarrhea, constipation, and food allergies or intolerances and were based on the mother's reports.
They found that children with autism were more likely to have constipation and diarrhea between the ages of 6 months and 18 months and more likely to have diarrhea, constipation, and food allergies or intolerance between the ages of 18 months and 36 months. Children who had an autism spectrum disorder were more likely to have one or more gastrointestinal symptoms in both age ranges, and more than twice as likely to have at least one gastrointestinal symptom in both age ranges, compared to the other children, they said.
The study noted that gastrointestinal problems are common in all children, but that doctors should be aware that children on the autism spectrum may have more problems and problems that are more persistent.
A relationship between gastrointestinal problems and autism has been described before, but it was not known what the prevalence of the problems were or whether they were specific to autism or might be linked to developmental delays as well.
What this finding means in terms of autism research is unclear. It may lead to areas of research or it may be useful to know that children with autism, who do not communicate well, may have intestinal issues that can affect their behavior.
The study was published in JAMA Psychiatry.