Is There a Link Between GI Disorders and Autism?

The body of research regarding autism is constantly expanding, yet not all of the research is conclusive. For example, a possible causal relationship between gastrointestinal disorders and autism is not supported by the evidence. However, researchers have noted that children with autism are more likely to experience chronic gastrointestinal disturbances such as constipation or diarrhea. Parents are encouraged to speak with an autism therapy provider for reliable information about the latest research.

Exploring the Possible Link

Several studies have found that children with autism or other developmental delays are more likely to experience gastrointestinal distress compared to typically developing children. For instance, a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders evaluated 960 children who were either typically developing, had autism, or had another developmental delay. The researchers concluded that children with autism or another developmental delay were more likely to develop gastrointestinal symptoms. Furthermore, of the children with autism, those who did report frequently occurring diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, or other symptoms were more likely to develop behavioral challenges. These included social withdrawal, irritability, and hyperactivity.

Understanding the Related Challenges

Most researchers are not suggesting that gastrointestinal disorders cause autism and the evidence does not support this. However, it is thought that chronic gastrointestinal symptoms can indeed contribute to the frequency or severity of behavioral challenges in these children. Additionally, children with autism are often quite selective in their eating habits. It can be difficult for parents to convince children with chronic constipation to get more fiber in their diet or make other physician-recommended changes. Some children with autism may have toileting management issues. In addition to consulting a pediatrician about a child’s gastrointestinal symptoms, parents may wish to speak with an ABA therapist about behavioral modification and its role in dietary intake.

The Behavior Exchange is an ABA school in Plano and Frisco that is committed to using only evidence-based practices to help children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) reach their full potential. Our highly trained therapists offer both individual and group autism therapy. Call (888) 716-8084 to request more information.





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