• Understanding Autism from the Inside

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Are There Other Medical Conditions Associated with Autism?

risk factors

Autism is a neuro-biological in nature; it is a neuro developmental disorder that appears in children usually before the age of three; however, the signs and symptoms may not be identifiable until later in some individuals when social and communications demands outweigh capabilities. People with autism have issues with non-verbal communication, a wide range of social interactions, and activities that include an element of play and/or banter. Below is a list of some other medical issues which people with autism may display. Remember that Autism Spectrum Disorder can present itself in a myriad of different ways. No two autistic people will have the exact same issues they deal with. The list below is not intended to be an exhaustive list.

Seizure Disorders

Seizures occur in up to 39% of people with autism. They are more common in children who also have cognitive deficits. Seizures usually start early in childhood or during adolescence, but may occur at any time. If you think your child may be having seizures, you should seek a referral to a neurologist who may order tests such as an EEG, an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), a CT (Computed Axial Tomography) and a CBC (Complete Blood Count).

Genetic Disorders

A small number of children with autism also have neurogenetic conditions such as Fragile X Syndrome, Angelman’s Syndrome, Tuberous Sclerosis, Chromosome 15 Duplication Syndrome or another chromosomal abnormality. If a child has a family history or physical symptoms that are characteristic of one of these disorders, a pediatrician may order tests or may refer the family to a developmental pediatrician, a geneticist and/or a pediatric neurologist for testing.

Gastro-intestinal Disorders

Surveys have suggested that between 46 and 85% of children with autism have problems such as chronic constipation or diarrhea. If a child has symptoms such as chronic or recurrent abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation, we urge you to see a gastroenterologist (preferably one that works with people with autism).Treating GI problems may result in improvement in a child’s behavior and his ability to learn. A popular dietary intervention for GI issues includes the elimination of dairy and gluten containing foods. As with any treatment it is best to consult the child’s physician to develop a comprehensive plan.

Sleep Problems

Sleep problems are common in children and adolescents with autism. Sometimes they may be caused by medical issues such as obstructive sleep apnea or gastro-esophageal reflux. Addressing the medical issues may solve the problem. Many families have had success with natural remedies, such as Melatonin or medication prescribed by a physician.

Sensory Integration Dysfunction or Sensory Processing Disorder

Most people with autism experience some degree of sensory processing dysfunction. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), like Autism, is a neurological disorder. The disorder causes difficulties with processing information from the five senses: vision, auditory (sound), tactile (touch), olfaction (smell), and taste. The person’s sense of movement (vestibular system), and/or the positional sense(proprioception) is also often effected. SPD is often diagnosed in children, and treated with sensory integration therapy. Adults, however, also experience SPD, and display a characteristic set of symptoms. Those with SPD can be affected in one area of the senses such as sight, or sound, or may be affected in many areas.

Pica

About 30 percent of children with autism have moderate to severe pica. Pica is a condition which involves 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.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is just that, a spectrum. This means, that the way it presents itself varies in each person. If you suspect you or a loved one has autism or some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder, the best thing to do is start the evaluation process as soon as possible. Each of the conditions listed is not in and of themselves, proof of the presence of autism. As with all scenarios, you should go in with an open mind.

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.