(HealthDay News) – For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a possibly interrelated phenomenon of co-existing anxiety, sensory over-responsivity, and gastrointestinal (GI) problems is common, according to a study published online Aug 1 in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

Micah O. Mazurek, PhD, from the University of Missouri in Columbia, and colleagues studied a sample of 2,973 children with ASD enrolled in the Autism Treatment Network (ages 2–17 years; 81.6% male) for bivariate and multivariate associations among anxiety, sensory over-responsivity, and chronic GI problems.

The researchers found that 24% of the children with ASD had at least one type of chronic GI problem (constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and/or nausea lasting three or more months). There were significantly higher rates of both anxiety and sensory over-responsivity in children with each type of GI problem. In logistic regression analyses, sensory over-responsivity and anxiety were highly associated and each predicted chronic GI problems.

“Children with anxiety may be distressed or reluctant to engage in new activities, and those with sensory problems may have trouble paying attention or participating in over-stimulating environments. These children may also suffer uncomfortable GI problems that they may not be able to communicate about to adults,” Mazurek said in a statement. “Practitioners who work with children with ASD need to be mindful that there is a pretty high rate of these problems, so if children are treated for one issue, it may helpful to screen for these additional symptoms.”

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