Autism not tied to bowel movement patterns

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Despite some reports to the contrary, children with autistic spectrum disorders do not have bowel movement patterns that suggest gastrointestinal problems, UK researchers report.

Autistic spectrum disorders are a group of developmental conditions that hinder people’s ability to communicate and build relationships. Previous studies, though inconclusive, “have described gastrointestinal symptoms in children with autism,” Dr. Alan Emonds, of the Center for Child and Adolescent Health, Bristol, and colleagues note in their study in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

However, based on their results, “The bowel habits of young children with autistic spectrum disorder, in general, are no different from the rest of population,” Emond told Reuters Health.

Emond’s team came to this conclusion after studying data from 78 children recognized as having autistic spectrum disorders and 12,906 other children without such disorders.

During the first three and a half years of life, there were no major differences between the groups in such factors as stool color, consistency, the frequency of diarrhea or constipation, and of stomach pain.

There were some children who began to have more stools per day at 30 months of age, but that “may be a secondary phenomenon related to differences in diet,” the authors note.

Nevertheless, Emond noted that some older children with autistic spectrum disorders do have bowel symptoms. “It is not clear whether these symptoms are due to dietary changes or abnormalities in intestinal function associated with autism. Further research is needed.”

SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood, July 2009.