As autism is a developmental disorder, many parents (especially those who have only recently discovered their child's autism) are unaware of how the condition can affect a child's physical health too. One area that's a common source of problems in autistic children is the gastrointestinal system. In fact, research indicates that 70% of children on the autism spectrum suffer from GI issues. If you're the parent of a child with autism, here are a few reasons why you should consider taking your child to a gastroenterology clinic (a specialist clinic for GI health) for regular check-ups.
Food Aversions Can Cause Problems
Food aversions are a common problem for children with autism, as many parents are aware. From strong dislikes to outright phobias, there are numerous negative reactions to food that children across the spectrum display. The causes of these food aversions are just as varied, including everything from sensory sensitivity to fear of change and new things. Unsurprisingly, as hard as many parents try to feed their autistic children a balanced diet, these food aversions can lead to nutritional problems. In turn, the nutritional imbalance can affect the gastrointestinal system. For example, a child who is averse to high-fibre foods like beans and cereal will be more likely to suffer from constipation. Likewise, children who prefer the bland taste of processed foods can suffer from GI symptoms associated with weight gain. A gastroenterologist can help you identify problems that stem from food aversions and treat them accordingly, and they may be able to offer advice on how to improve your child's diet within the confines of their aversions.
GI Disorders Can Exacerbate Autism Symptoms
While there's no evidence to suggest that gastrointestinal disorders cause autism, a child suffering from a GI problem could display stronger autism symptoms. From constipation to diarrhoea to stomach aches, gastrointestinal issues can cause a great deal of pain, discomfort, fatigue and irritability. When a child is suffering from these symptoms, the distress can cause their behavioural difficulties to worsen, and they may find it harder to access the coping mechanisms they usually use to process difficult situations. As a result, treating underlying GI disorders can help to reduce some of the negative symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. For example, one study found that fecal transplants (where healthy stools are transferred to a problematic GI tract) reduced both GI and autism symptoms in patients who underwent the treatment.