The following information is being used with permission from the Autism Speaks web site.
Some children with autism have an identifiable genetic condition that affects brain development. These genetic disorders include Fragile X syndrome, Angelman syndrome, tuberous sclerosis and chromosome 15 duplication syndrome and other single-gene and chromosomal disorders. While further study is needed, single gene disorders appear to affect 15 to 20 percent of those with ASD. Some of these syndromes have characteristic features or family histories, the presence of which may prompt your doctor to refer to a geneticist or neurologist for further testing. The results can help guide treatment, awareness of associated medical issues and life planning.
Gastrointestinal (GI) Diseases
GI distress is common among persons with autism, and affects up to 85 percent of children with ASD. These conditions range in severity from a tendency for chronic constipation or diarrhea to inflammatory bowel disease. Pain caused by GI issues can prompt behavioral changes such as increased self-soothing (rocking, head banging, etc) or outbursts of aggression or self-injury. Conversely, appropriate treatment can improve behavior and quality of life.
Seizure disorders, including epilepsy, occur in as many as 39 percent of those with autism. It is more common in people with autism who also have intellectual disability than those without. Someone with autism may experience more than one type of seizure. The easiest to recognize is the grand mal, or tonic-clonic, seizure. Others include “petit mal” seizures (when a person temporarily appears “absent”) and subclinical seizures, which may be apparent only with electroencephalogram (EEG) testing.
Seizures associated with autism tend to start in either early childhood or adolescence. But they may occur at any time. If you are concerned that you or your child may be having seizures, it is important to raise the issue with your doctor for possible referral to a neurologist for further evaluation.
Sleep problems are common among children and adolescents with autism and may likewise affect many adults.
Sensory Processing Problems
Many persons with autism have unusual responses to sensory input. They have difficulty processing and integrating sensory information, or stimuli, such as sights, sounds smells, tastes and/or movement. They may experience seemingly ordinary stimuli as painful, unpleasant or confusing.
Some of those with autism are hypersensitive to sounds or touch, a condition also known as sensory defensiveness. Others are under-responsive, or hyposensitive. An example of hypersensitivity would be the inability to tolerate wearing clothing, being touched or being in a room with normal lighting. Hyposensitivity can include failure to respond when one’s name is called. Many sensory processing problems can be addressed with occupational therapy and/or sensory integration therapy.
Pica is a tendency to eat things that are not food. Eating non-food items is a normal part of development between the ages of 18 and 24 months. However, some children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities continue to eat items such as dirt, clay, chalk or paint chips. For this reason, it is important to test for elevated blood levels of lead in those who persistently mouth fingers or objects that might be contaminated with this common environmental toxin.