Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder ranging from mild to severe. It is characterized by problems with speech and communication, difficulties with social interactions and repetitive movements or patterns of behavior. ASD often does not travel alone. Some of the most common comorbid, or coexisting, conditions include gastrointestinal problems, sleep disturbances, seizure disorders.
GI medical conditions include chronic constipation or diarrhea and reflux disease (GERD). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children with ASD are more than 3.5 times more likely to suffer from either constipation or diarrhea than children without ASD.
Chronic constipation may sometimes be caused from eating a restricted diet (common in children with ASD), medications or sensory issues. It can also be caused by separate medical conditions. Treatment usually includes behavioral interventions, such as addressing sensory issues that may interfere with eating or toileting. Working with a nutritionist to help incorporate more fiber in the diet may help. Medications such as laxatives are sometimes used.
Chronic diarrhea is diarrhea that lasts two weeks or longer and can result in a serious medical problem. It can be caused by infection, immune deficiencies, inflammatory bowel diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, food allergies or the prominence of certain foods, such as apple juice in your child’s diet. If your child has chronic diarrhea, you should consult with your doctor to make sure additional medical problems do not develop.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when the muscle between the stomach and esophagus is lax and allows stomach acid to move up into the esophagus. It causes a burning pain (known as heartburn) and can damage the esophagus. Making sure the head is elevated during sleep and paying attention to foods that may trigger GERD (such as spicy foods) can help. You should discuss this with your child’s doctor if GERD is recurring or causing pain or problems with eating or sleeping.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.