To date, studies show that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism.
Autism is referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD and is a developmental disability that can cause a range of mild to severe social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is no “look to autism,” but behaviors, social skills and communication can be markedly different in people with ASD than people without the disorder.
Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders vary- and one symptom that parents tend to focus on are the GI issues that can come with an autism diagnosis. Many children with autism suffer from issues involving the gut and their bowel movements (or lack thereof!) Constipation tends to be a common issue in the Autism Community and a common discussion amongst parents- parents that are always trying to find tools that help!
Studies from Autism Speaks, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “recently found that children with autism are more than 3.5 times more likely to suffer chronic diarrhea or constipation than are their normally developing peers. Other researchers have found a strong link between GI symptoms and autism severity in children. Some experts have even proposed that toxins produced by abnormal gut bacteria may trigger or worsen autism in some children.”
According to renowned pediatric gastroenterologist, Dr. Timothy Buie at Massachusetts General Hospital, some behavioral signs of GI discomfort in ASD include:
- Tapping chin
- Excessive coughing
- Applying pressure on the abdomen (lying over arms of couch)
- Chewing of clothes (can also be teething/sensory seeking behavior)
- Feeding/eating disorders
- Excessively chewing food or food refusal (difficulty swallowing due to inflammation or eosinophilic gastroenteritis-may be painful to swallow)
- Hitting/fisting the jaw
- Sleep disturbances
- Eating to relieve discomfort
- Behavior changes, especially self-injurious, aggressive or mouthing behaviors
Toileting and potty training can be a difficult thing to teach, even with typical developing children. Kids with autism have unique issues that can arise. Many of our kids have sensory issues that hinder a smooth transition to potty training- they don’t like the bright lights in the bathroom, the echo-sounds of running water, the dangling of their feet from a large, hard toilet. Many kids with autism have rigid diets, causing constipation and encopresis which in turn causes pain, making toileting a scary and painful experience. Communication can be limited and as parents we have to set a toileting routine.
When we realized that our children had some of these “gut issues,” we started doing some research. As parents, we sought out information to help our kids with this very real problem. We looked to The Thompson Center for Autism in Columbia, MO and found a tool-kit produced in the ATN/Autism Speaks partnership and found many useful suggestions and ideas. In the process, we saw the Squatty Potty on a favorite show, Shark Tank, and thought, maybe it could help! We ordered two and now, it is an integral tool in our bathrooms- it helped our son feel more comfortable in his toileting routine and helped our older daughter deal with painful constipation as a young child.
Our goal at Ella’s Hope for Autism, our non-profit helping families and organizations, and Autism Support Now Behavioral Services, our agency providing therapies to individuals aged 2-18, has always been to help educate and advocate for families that are affected with autism. Our mission is to promote autism awareness and support families affected by autism spectrum disorders. We are committed to funding programs and organizations that provide early intervention services and therapies, family support, education, advocacy and opportunities with the purpose of improving the quality of life for individuals with autism and their families. We offer support to organizations that provide services for children with autism and to organizations that conduct research on the causes and effects of autism. To find out more information, please visit us at http://ellashope.org/donate-now/ and http://autismsupportnow.com/
Hope McPheeters is the Executive Director of Ella’s Hope for Autism, a 501c3 non-profit helping families across Missouri, Kansas and Illinois. She volunteers as the Parent and Community Specialist for Autism Support Now Behavioral Services and advocates for individuals through local school districts and organizations. She lives in Kansas City, with her husband and two children, who are both on the autism spectrum.