It never occurred to me that a person with Autism would suffer with gastrointestinal, but after further research, it actually makes perfect sense.
Many people on the spectrum tend to hand safe foods, and quite frequently, those foods are processed, beige foods – meaning a lack of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This could result in regular bouts of constipation and abdominal pains. We all know how hard it is to get our children to try new foods and we soon become masters in trying to hide new foods with our children’s safe food options. I’ve even heard of children being hospitalised while abroad, as they haven’t been able to find the safe food options they need. As there is a high likelihood of safe foods being processed, there is also a link between people with ASD and obesity that goes into adulthood.
There is also a psychological element linked to the above – if a child has constipation, it could be painful them to go to the toilet – which could lead to them avoiding it, and simply holding it in. Others may only prefer to use one specific toilet, like at home and other children could simply be scared of toilets in general – the feel of sitting on the hard surface, the lighting, the flush of the toilet, could simply be too much… and let’s not mention the hand dryers in public toilets!
In other cases, many people with Autism also have a lot of anxiety – of new surroundings, social situations, etc, and this can result in the person having a constant upset stomach. This could make a person reluctant to eat in general and could lead to other complications, such as malnutrition.
This investigation has actually been going on a lot longer than we thought – in 1943, Leo Kanner showed that 7 out of 11 children that he worked with had eating/dietary issues, which proved there was an early association between ASD and GI issues. As mentioned, Constipation, Abdominal pain and loose stools were the most common symptoms, however, there were also reports of reflux, bloody stools, and excess gas. This ground-breaking report also showed that food allergies had also been linked to people with ASD.
Not to go completely scientific with you all, but there are also several studies that report that people with ASD display something called Dysbiosis (altered creation of the intestinal microbiota). This led on to further studies that showed that this could bring on complex behaviours such as anxiety and depressive behaviours. There was also a study in America at the Simons Simplex Collection (SSC) that showed that those with the mutation to the CHD8 gene share similar facial features, have sleep issues and have frequent bouts of constipation, followed by lose stools. They also found that those with poor sleep patterns are more likely to have Gastro intestinal issues.
While doing my research for this blog, it seems that despite the studies done over the years, doctors are reluctant to see the link between ASD and Gastro Issues and there is no set medical information to help with this. I found myself scouring forums and university studies, which was frustrating, as there should be more information out there for families who are finding it hard and want to know if there is any link. I know in some cases, families may be referred to nutritionists, but as a parent of a child that is barely eating anything right now, I know that it is not an easy task to introduce new foods and expect them to try any of it – most of the food I’m currently providing is being thrown.
I hope this blog gives a little insight of the gastro issues people with ASD may face – I will keep looking into this, as a lot of it is resonating with Grace.