One in 88 children has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A new study by a University of Missouri researcher found that many children with ASD also experience anxiety, chronic gastrointestinal (GI) problems and atypical sensory responses, which are heightened reactions to light, sound or particular textures. These problems appear to be highly related and can have significant effects on children's daily lives, including their functioning at home and in school.
Micah Mazurek, an assistant professor of health psychology and a clinical child psychologist, found in her study of 2,973 children and adolescents with ASD that nearly one-fourth also had chronic GI problems, such as constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea or nausea. The results also showed that children with chronic GI problems were more likely to experience anxiety and sensory problems.
"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 over-stimulating enviornments," Mazurek said. "These children may also suffer uncomfortable GI problems that they may not be able to communicate about to adults."
Clinicians should be aware that anxiety, GI problems and sensory sensitivity often co-occur in individuals with ASD. Effectively managing these concurrent issues may improve children's quality of life and their responses to treatment, Mazurek said.