Fact sheet on respite care for parents of a child with Autism, an Autism Spectrum Disorder


Gastrointestinal problems are commonly linked with autism and Asperger's 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 that hurt.


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 gastrointestinal symptom**.


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 toilet.


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]

Click here to close this Autism fact sheet on constipation down

Click here for the full range of Asperger's and autism fact sheets at www.autism-help.org
This autism fact sheet is under copyright www.autism-help.org

Gastrointestinal problems are commonly linked with Autism and Asperger's syndrome with constipation as a common problem: 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 that hurt.