Detecting GI Disorders In Autistic Kids

The link between the gut and the brain is real and powerful. Scientists are learning more and more about how this two-way connection works, but it’s clear that our gut health can affect our moods, emotions, and stress levels — and vice versa.

Gut health is important to note in those with autism. Behavioral problems in kids with autism that manifest as anger or aggression are often treated as if they are psychological in nature; however, they could actually stem from gastrointestinal upset.

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Turns out, gastrointestinal disorders are four times as common in kids with autism as their neurotypical peers. But diagnosing them can be tricky.

For example, autistic individuals who are nonverbal can have difficulty trying to communicate their distress. And for those with with sensory processing disorders, GI upset can be hard to pinpoint because it’s not always clear where their discomfort is even coming from.

The good news is that there’s now a questionnaire that can help determine GI problems in those with autism. By asking 17 questions to narrow down exactly what the child is experiencing, the questionnaire was able to identify 84% of the kids with GI disorders.

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The study was titled “Development of a Brief Parent-Report Screen for Common Gastrointestinal Disorders in Autism Spectrum Disorder” and was published on October 22, 2018, in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Researchers gave a list of 35 questions to 131 parents of children with autism. These questions aimed to determine if the child had signs of constipation, diarrhea, and reflux — three common indicators of GI upset. Some of the questions included if the child gagged during meals, put physical pressure on their stomach, or arched their back.

Then, researchers had pediatric gastroenterologists evaluate the children separately, without knowledge of any signs the parents had already observed.

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Researchers found that 17 of the original 35 questions were the best indicators of GI issues, correctly pinpointing 84% of the kids who had GI disorders. However, about 33% of the participants had false positives, where the screening indicated they had a GI disorder but they actually did not.

Still, researchers point out that 84% accuracy is a great percentage.

Additional studies are ongoing at Columbia University Irving Medical Center to provide more validation for the study.

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