CONSTIPATION AND AUTISM
problems are commonly linked with autism
syndrome. A typical definition of constipation is bowel movements
that occur less than every other or every third day, bowel movements
that are large and hard, and, perhaps most importantly, bowel movements
Constipation is one of many co-morbid
problems that many children on the autism spectrum may suffer from. Many studies attest to this: a study
of 103 children with autism reported that moderate or severe constipation
was more frequent in the autistic group than in the control subjects
(36% vs 10%)*. They also noted that 54.4% of autistic children had
moderate to severe loading (an accumulation of feces in the rectum
and colon) or acquired megarectum (an enlarged rectum due to chronic
overloading) compared with 24.1% of control subjects.
Another interesting finding was that consumption
of milk was the strongest predictor of constipation in the autistic
group. That doesn't mean milk causes constipation but it may support
the belief that the gastrointestinal systems of persons with autism
handle milk products differently (click here
for more information). Another study of 137 children with autism
and found that 24 percent had a history of at least one chronic
STrategies to relieve your child's constipation
Making changes to your child's diet can help to
ease constipation, as well as encouraging them to change any habits
which are leading to constipation.
As many parents of autistic children know, they
can be fussy
eaters. Try to introduce more fiber into their diet, by gradually
increasing the quantity of fruit, vegetables and whole grain breads
and cereals that they eat. Even if you are trying gluten-free
casein-free diets, you should find a wide range of fibre-rich
foods to choose from. Do not increase the amount of fibre in too-large
quantities, as this may result in gas and bloating.
Prune juice is a well known help for constipation.
It contains complex sugars that cannot be absorbed by the intestine
and which help to retain water in the bowel, keeping the stool soft.
Plenty of clear fluids, such as water, also help for the same reason.
If possible try to get your child into the habit
of going to the toilet as soon as they have the urge to defecate.
Some parents find a useful toilet
training method is to encourage their child to sit on the toilet
after meals as this can take advantage of the natural intestinal
contractions that occur after eating. This is a good habit to encourage
as children with constipation often do not get the sensation of
the bowel being full which would normally tell them to go to the
See the Family
and Carer issues section of the website for more information.
* Afzal, Murch, Thirrupathy, Berger, Fagbemi,
and Heuschkel [Pediatrics. 2003 Oct;112(4):939-42]
** Molloy and Manning-Courtney [Autism. 2003 Jun;7(2):165-71]
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