Caring for children is difficult. Caring for children with learning or developmental issues is very difficult, particularly when there's a language or communication barrier between you. It's so important for parents and guardians to understand what's going on in the mind and bodies of young people, because being aware of the symptoms is the only way to really give them the help they need. However, a new test may help detect hidden GI issues in kids with autism, according to new research, and it could be a serious breakthrough.
For those who aren't familiar with the connection between autism and gastrointestinal issues, it's pretty significant. In fact, research from the National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health claim that children with autism spectrum disorder or any other developmental delay are "more likely to have at least one frequent GI symptom." The reason? "Maladaptive behaviors correlate with GI problems, suggesting these comorbidities require attention," the report reads. In addition, those with "frequent abdominal pain, gaseousness, diarrhea, constipation or pain on stooling" scored worse on "Irritability, Social Withdrawal, Stereotypy, and Hyperactivity" in the same study.
However, something that often prevents proper diagnosis and treatment is the ability for these children to communicate their discomfort, and that's where this new test comes in.
The Columbia University Irving Medical Center has developed a questionnaire-style test that has proven to help diagnose children with GI issues. For the study, 131 parents of children with autism were given 35 questions designed to assess the most common GI symptoms: constipation, diarrhea, and reflux disease. These included watching for gagging during meals, the ability to apply pressure to different parts of the abdomen, or the arching of the back. According to the study, many of the questions did not require a child to verbally confirm the symptoms, rather, relied on those that were observable in other ways.
The researchers concluded that there were a total of 17 questions that most accurately assessed whether or not a child had a GI issue, at a rate of correctly diagnosing 84 percent of the time, according to the study.
"Gastrointestinal problems can be painful and disabling and they can have profound effects on a child's behavior," Kara Gross Margolis, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons who conduced the study said according to Science Daily. "For a screening device, this false-positive rate seems acceptable to us given that the test correctly identified over 80 percent of the participants who had GI problems."
At this point, the full list of questions is not yet available to the public, but be sure to check with your doctor.
It's been well-documented that kids with autism can often struggle with food. In fact, the issues go beyond just GI irritation or disruptions. According to Autism Speaks, food issues in autistic kids can range from "restricted food habits and aversions to certain tastes and textures," and that "these challenges often stem from autism-related hypersensitivities and/or a strong need for sameness." Additionally, according to Autism Speaks, "chronic overeating" is cited as another challenge that can "stem from an inability" to sense when they're full.
However, other research explains that the cause of GI issues in kids with autism is most likely due to stress, as Healio reported. “Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for those with autism to experience constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal issues,” Brad Ferguson, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of radiology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine and the University of Missouri Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, said in a press release for a separate study published in 2017, according to Healio.
Regardless of the cause, the first and most crucial step to improving the lives of those with autism is being able to identify the problem, and on this front, it seems significant progress is being made.