Individuals with autism tend to be diverse. Therefore, it is difficult to use words such as all or none when describing this group.
Seizure Disorder, also called Epilepsy, occurs in as many as 39% of people with autism. It is more common in children who also have cognitive challenges than those without. Some researchers have suggested that it is more common when the child has shown a regression or loss of skills. The seizures associated with autism usually start either early in childhood or during adolescence, but may occur at any time.
Many parents report gastrointestinal (GI) problems in their children with autism. The exact number of children with gastrointestinal issues such as gastritis, chronic constipation, colitis, celiac disease and esophagitis is unknown. Surveys have suggested that between 46 and 85% of children with autism have problems such as chronic constipation or diarrhea. Pain caused by GI issues is sometimes recognized because of a change in a child’s behaviour, such as an increase in self-soothing behaviors such as rocking or outbursts of aggression or self-injury. Bear in mind that your child may not have the language skills to communicate pain caused by GI issues. Treating GI problems may result in improvement in your child’s behaviour. There are a number of dietary interventions for GI issues impacting children with autism. The most common diet includes the elimination of dairy and gluten containing foods.
Pica is an eating disorder involving eating things that are not food. Children between 18 and 24 months old often eat non-food items, but this is typically a normal part of development. Some children with autism and other developmental disabilities persist beyond the developmentally typical time frame and continue to eat items such as dirt, clay, chalk or paint chips. Children showing signs of persistent mouthing of fingers or objects, including toys, should be tested for elevated blood levels of lead, especially if there is known potential for environmental exposure to lead.
Associated Neurogenetic Conditions
A small number of children with autism may also have an identifiable neurogenetic condition such as Fragile X Syndrome, Angelman’s Syndrome, and a neurocutaneous disorder called Tuberous Sclerosis, Chromosome 15 Duplication Syndrome, or another chromosomal abnormality. If the child has clinical features, such as a family history or physical symptoms, which are characteristic of one of these disorders, the family doctor may order tests or refer the parent to the appropriate specialist for testing.
Sensory Integration Dysfunction
Many children with autism experience unusual responses to sensory stimuli, or input. These responses are due to difficulty in processing and integrating the information their brain is receiving from their senses. Vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste, the sense of movement (vestibular system) and the sense of position (proprioception) can all be affected. This means that while information is sensed normally, meaning the ears, eyes, etc. are working normally, it may be perceived much differently by their brain. Sometimes stimuli that seem “normal” to others can be experienced as painful, unpleasant or confusing by the child with Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID).
SID can involve hypersensitivity, also known as sensory defensiveness, or hyposensitivity. An example of hypersensitivity would be the inability to tolerate wearing clothing, being touched, or being in a room with normal lighting. Hyposensitivity might be apparent in a child’s increased tolerance of pain or a constant need for sensory stimulation. Treatment for Sensory Integration Dysfunction is usually addressed with occupational therapy and/or sensory integration therapy.
Sleep problems are common in children and adolescents with autism in that many children with ASD have trouble getting to sleep or staying to sleep. Having a child with sleep problems can exhaust the whole family and impact the child’s ability to learn. Sometimes sleep issues may be caused by medical issues such as obstructive sleep apnea or gastroesophageal reflux, and addressing the medical issues may solve the problem. There is some evidence of abnormality of melatonin regulation in children with autism, and melatonin supplements have shown to be effective in improving the ability of some children with autism to fall asleep.
Is there a Cure for Autism?
Currently there is no definitive cause or cure for autism; however, research is ongoing and there are many treatments that are effective in treating ASD.