Many parents report gastrointestinal (GI) problems15 in their children with autism. The exact number of children with both gastrointestinal issues such as gastritis, chronic constipation, colitis, celiac disease and esophagitis and autism is unknown. Surveys have suggested that between 46 and 85% of children with autism have problems such as chronic constipation or diarrhea.
One recent study identified a history of gastrointestinal symptoms (such as abnormal pattern of bowl movements, frequent constipation, frequent vomiting, and frequent abdominal pain) in 70% of the children with autism, compared with 42% of children with other developmental disabilities and 28% of children without developmental disabilities.
If your child has symptoms such as chronic or recurrent abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation, you will want to consult a gastroenterologist (preferably one that works with people with autism). Your child's physician may be able to help you find an appropriate specialist. Pain caused by GI issues is sometimes recognized because of a change in a child's behavior, such as an increase in self soothing behaviors such as rocking or outbursts of aggression or self-injury. Bear in mind that your child may not have the language skills to communicate pain caused by GI issues. Treating GI problems may result in improvement in your child's behavior.
A popular dietary intervention for GI issues includes the elimination of dairy and gluten containing foods. As with any treatment it is best to consult your child's physician to develop a comprehensive plan.
In February 2007, Autism Speaks initiated a campaign to inform pediatricians about the diagnosis and treatment of GI problems associated with autism.