Gut problems are often seen in children with autism, research finds.
Children with more severe repetitive behaviours — a classic sign of autism — are more likely to experience stomach pain, constipation and other gut difficulties.
Repetitive behaviours include rocking back and forth and hand flapping.
It may be that repetitive behaviours are one way that children with autism communicate their distress at gut problems.
However, social and communication difficulties — another symptom of autism — were not linked to gut problems.
The study underlines the strong link found between mental health problems in general and the gut.
Ms Payal Chakraborty, the study’s first author, said:
“In the general population, there’s a fair amount of evidence about the connection between mood and mental disorders and gastrointestinal difficulties.
In autism, we wonder if the gut problems children experience are a core part of the disease itself or whether they’re brought on by other symptoms that children with autism experience.”
The study of 176 children with autism found that 93 percent had at least one gastrointestinal problem.
Ms Chakraborty said:
“GI problems are a significant issue for many people with autism and there’s evidence that these symptoms might exacerbate certain autism behaviors, which can lead to greater developmental challenges.”
Repetitive behaviours could be a kind of coping system for gastro-intestinal problems.
Gut problems typically emerge at a time when children are still unable to communicate verbally.
Ms Chakraborty said:
“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.”
Previous studies have suggested that probiotic therapy may be able to help people with autism.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Autism (Chakraborty et al., 2020).