Consumer Health: Autism spectrum disorder and digestive symptoms


World Autism Awareness Day will be observed on Friday, April 2, which makes this a good time to learn more about the connection between autism spectrum disorder and digestive symptoms.

Autism spectrum disorder is a condition related to brain development that affects how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication. The disorder also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behavior. The term “spectrum” in autism spectrum disorder refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity.

Some children show signs of autism spectrum disorder in early infancy, such as reduced eye contact, lack of response to their name or indifference to caregivers. Other children may develop normally for the first few months or years of life, but then they suddenly become withdrawn or aggressive, or lose language skills they’d already acquired. Signs usually are seen by age 2.

Children with autism spectrum disorder tend to have more medical issues, including gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea, compared with their peers. At the same time, many children with autism spectrum disorder eat only a few foods, a condition known as selective eating. They also may prefer highly processed foods, and eat fewer fruits, vegetables and whole grains. For these reasons, children with autism spectrum disorder may have nutritionally poor diets and weight-related health issues that can extend into adulthood. Adults with autism spectrum disorder are at increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Learn more about the connection between autism and digestive symptoms from Katherine Zeratsky, a Mayo Clinic registered dietitian nutritionist.

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