Many Children With Autism Have Other Health Problems, Study Says

TUESDAY, Sept. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Many children with autism have interrelated health problems that can have a significant impact on their home and school lives, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at nearly 3,000 children with autism and found that nearly one-fourth also had chronic gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and nausea.

The children with the chronic gastrointestinal problems also had anxiety and so-called "atypical sensory responses," which are heightened reactions to light, sound or particular textures, according to the study, which was published recently in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

"These problems can have a very real impact on daily life. Children with anxiety may be distressed or reluctant to engage in new activities, and those with sensory problems may have trouble paying attention or participating in overstimulating environments," Micah Mazurek, assistant professor of health psychology and a clinical child psychologist at the University of Missouri, said in a university news release. "These children may also suffer uncomfortable [gastrointestinal] problems that they may not be able to communicate about to adults."

Effective management of these problems may improve autistic children's quality of life and response to treatment, she said.

"Parents need to be aware that these problems may underlie some of their children's difficulties, so if they notice any symptoms, they should talk to their doctors or therapists about treatment options," Mazurek said.

"Practitioners who work with children with [autism spectrum disorders] need to be mindful that there is a pretty high rate of these problems, so if children are treated for one issue, it may be helpful to screen for these additional symptoms," she added.

"Autism spectrum disorder" is a term for a group of developmental disorders with similar features, ranging from Asperger's syndrome at the mild end to full-blown autism. In general, it causes problems with social interaction and communication, and often is marked by obsessive and repetitive behaviors.

One in 88 children in the United States has been diagnosed with autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

SOURCE: University of Missouri, news release, Sept. 19, 2012

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