Association Between Autism, GI Symptoms Is Explained


Preschool-age children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are 3 times more likely to experience symptoms of gastrointestinal (GI) disfunction than children of the same age who are developing typically, according to new research.

Although GI symptoms are frequently reported among children with ASD, the current research sought to determine whether there was any association between such GI disorders and gender or developmental or behavioral characteristics.

To conduct their study, the researchers examined the frequency and severity of GI symptoms in 255 children between the ages of 2 and 3.5 years old who had been diagnosed with ASD and in 129 controls matched for age.

The researchers conducted interviews with parents to gather data on such symptoms as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, painful bowel movements, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, and the appearance of blood in the children’s stool or vomit. In each group, the development, behavior, and functioning of children with GI symptoms were compared with those of children without these symptoms.

GI upsets were reported more frequently in children with ASD (47.8%) than in the typical development group (17.8%) and the preschoolers with ASD were also more likely to experience more than one symptom of GI illness than the control group (30.6% vs 5.4%). GI symptoms occurred equally often in boys and girls in both groups, and the researchers found no statistically significant differences between children with ASD and the control group in measures of development or adaptive measures based on whether the children had symptoms of GI illness.

However, the researchers did find an association between GI symptoms and an increase in self‐injury, aggressive behaviors, sleep disfunction, and attention problems in both the control and ASD groups. As the number of GI symptoms increased in children with autism, so too did exacerbations in self‐injurious behavior and sleep problems.

“Since GI symptoms are often treatable, it is important to recognize them as soon as possible,” the researchers concluded. “Both clinicians and parents should become more aware of the high occurrence of GI problems in [children with autism.]”


—Rebecca Mashaw



Restrepo B, Angkustsiri K, Taylor SL, et al. Developmental-behavioral profiles in children with autism spectrum disorder and co‐occurring gastrointestinal symptoms. Autism Res. Published online August 6, 2020.