Constipation and Autism

autism constipation

Many Autistic children experience gastrointestinal difficulties. A metanalysis of studies published by the Journal of Paediatrics estimates that “To demonstrate, a meta-analysis of several studies published by the Journal of Pediatrics estimates that “the odds of GI symptoms in children with ASD are four times more prevalent than for children without ASD.”  Constipation can cause a delay in continence independence – learning to use the toilet / potty training. Constipation can directly impact cause a delay in an Autistic child achieving bladder and bowel control.

autism constipation

Possible Causes of Constipation in Autistic Children

We know that 1 in 3 children (includes Autistic and non-Autistic children) experience constipation. Understanding why Autistic children may be more likely (4 times more likely) to experience constipation is important. Some of the reasons Autistic children may experience constipation include:

  • Diet – many Autistic children have preference for foods that may not be supportive of regular bowel movements (for example foods that have low water content or are low in fibre).
  • Low fluid intake – some Autistic children may have a preference to not have a water intake that would be supportive of regular bowel movements.
  • Anxiety – many Autistic children experience high levels of anxiety and this anxiety may reduce their intrinsic motivation to use the toilet/pass a poop.
  • Withholding – Autistic children may begin withholding poo (there may be a number of reasons for withholding) and this can lead to constipation.
  • Interoception – some Autistic children may experience interoception processing differences and these differences may create a difficulty for an Autistic child to understand when they need to use the bathroom.
  • Nappy/Diaper Use – some Autistic may fine the transition from diaper/nappy to underwear difficult and may prefer to only pass a poo when their diaper/nappy is put back on.
  • Supplements & Medications – some Autistic children may have medical reasons (unrelated to their Autism) to take medications. Some medications as a side effect can cause constipation – speak with your GP if you have concerns.
  • Food Allergies/Sensitivities – some Autistic children have food allergies/sensitivities and these may lead to constipation

The above list is just a sample of the reasons why constipation in Autistic children may occur. Speak with your medical health professional for advice and support if you feel your child is experiencing constipation.

autism poo

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autism-constipation-toileting-training

References

Fu SC, Lee CH, Wang H. Exploring the Association of Autism Spectrum Disorders and Constipation through Analysis of the Gut Microbiome. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jan 14;18(2):667. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18020667. PMID: 33466802; PMCID: PMC7830459.

Maslen C, Hodge R, Tie K, Laugharne R, Lamb K, Shankar R. Constipation in autistic people and people with learning disabilities. Br J Gen Pract. 2022 Jun 30;72(720):348-351. doi: 10.3399/bjgp22X720077. PMID: 35772989; PMCID: PMC9256070.

McElhanon, B. O., McCracken, C., Karpen, S., & Sharp, W. G. (2014). Gastrointestinal symptoms in autism spectrum disorder: a meta-analysis. Pediatrics133(5), 872–883. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2013-3995

Mulay, Kalyani Vijaykumar, and Sivaramakrishnan Venkatesh Karthik. “Managing Constipation in Children with ASD – a Challenge Worth Tackling.” Pediatrics & Neonatology, Jan. 2022, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedneo.2021.11.009. Accessed 14 Mar. 2022.

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