Why Do Kids with Autism Have More Gastrointestinal Problems?

child with stomach ache visiting doctorParents of children with autism have long reported a cornucopia of symptoms that don’t show up in the official autism literature. For many of these kids, chronic gastrointestinal problems compound the challenges of an already challenging diagnosis. A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry supports the contention that gastrointestinal problems are more common among children with autism. For some autism advocates, this information is further evidence of a connection between autism and gut health.

Gut Health Among Children with Autism

To test the association between autism and gut issues, researchers asked Norwegian mothers of autistic children to complete questionnaires about their children’s symptoms. Parents first completed the surveys when their children were 18 months old, and again around the third birthday. Children on the autism spectrum were more likely to experience constipation and food sensitivities between six and 18 months. Between 18 and 36 months, these children continued to experience food allergies and constipation, in addition to diarrhea.

One might conclude that some of the developmental challenges that come with autism could help explain gastrointestinal problems. According to the study, though, this can’t explain the difference. Children with autism had a higher incidence of gastrointestinal issues than children without any developmental issues and children with another developmental delay. Overall, children with autism were more than twice as likely as other children to experience stomach problems.

Do Gut Problems Cause Autism?

It might seem natural to conclude that issues with gut health could either cause or foreshadow autism, but the research doesn’t point in this direction. The study’s authors emphasize that many children have gastrointestinal issues, and that the overwhelming majority do not develop autism. They’re not yet sure why gastrointestinal issues are more common in children on the spectrum, but suggest that more research into this issue could help children with autism while offering their parents additional options for treatment and support.


Autistic children more likely to have GI issues in early life. (2015, March 25). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150325132510.htm

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  • paine


    April 2nd, 2015 at 2:03 PM

    I am very surprised that dietary issues are not shown to be correlated and only because that has somehow become the new thing, that changing certain things in an autistic child’s diet could help with where they fall on the spectrum. I don’t know, I am not that familiar with the whole thing but that and vaccines seem to be the big buzz issues surrounding any autism diagnosis that I hear about.

  • bernadette


    April 4th, 2015 at 1:11 AM

    Could it be that autistic children experience so much anxiety and that is part of the reason of gastro- intestinal problem? Or maybe that’s just too simplistic

  • Derek


    April 4th, 2015 at 10:07 AM

    Ok so I am a little confused because to me even just reading this it points to some clear evidence that there IS a correlation?

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