Monday, January 18, 2010

Digestive Disorders in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders Acknowledged by Mainstream Medicine

The New Year ushered in promising news for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) as the first step were taken for guideline recommendations for treatment of gastric intestinal disorders (GI) commonly experience by those on the spectrum. The news validated what parents and we practitioners who care for children with ASD have known all along: GI disorders are a valid ailment of children on the spectrum and as such require evaluation and treatment.

The consensus recommendations were derived from a 2008 meeting sponsored by Autism Forum and were written by a multidisciplinary panel of pediatric and GI experts. They call for more scientific studies to be conducted on GI disorders in children with autism, acknowledging that GI distress oftentimes present atypical, self injurious behavior and disturbed sleep. The study further recommends that children with ASD who show signs of abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, chronic constipation or other symptoms of gastric distress be evaluated and treated just as their typical counterparts would be. In addition, trials are recommended to build an evidence base for developing diagnostic and treatment strategies for GI disorders.

For many children with autism, communication is an issue; limitations in speech often make it impossible to specifically communicate the pain that they are experiencing, culminating in behavioral issues that are often viewed as the face of autism. Digestive disorders up until now were often dismissed as a symptom of autism and further investigation often was not taken to treat the problem. According to Autism Research Institute’s Director Dr. Steve Edelson, “This is truly a human rights issue; every child deserves proper medical attention--whether or not they have autism.”

In my own ASD patients, I have found that GI distress is a common complaint. Diet is one of the first areas that I evaluate. While the recent report advises that more studies need to be undertaken to develop dietary guidelines, I have found time and time again that specialized diets such as the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free (GFCF) diet have been extremely effective in those who present signs or demonstrate allergies (on blood work) to gluten or dairy products. Feedback from parents regularly shows that children with GI disorders make significant improvements in such areas as speech, bowel habits, language acquisition, behavior and sensory issues when eliminating gluten and dairy foods. In fact, in a trial noted by the panel, more than half the participants elected to continue the GFCF diet after the trial, reporting positive changes in their child. While each child is unique, it’s been my experience that diet in conjunction with other supplementation continually proves to be an effective means of helping children with ASD reach their maximum potential.

For more information, see the January issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. (


  1. This was a very interesting article and something that many people overlook. I will email this post to a number of people I know that would find this beneficial.

  2. There are many cases of kids being misdiagnosed with autism, when they really have celiac disease or other conditions that cause autistic like features or symptoms


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