10/2/2019 – A study from the University of Missouri adds to evidence that behavior problems in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can be an indication of gastrointestinal (GI) distress.

Bradley Ferguson and colleagues analyzed records from 340 children and adolescents with ASD. The researchers found that 65% of the individuals experienced constipation, nearly half experienced stomach pain, nearly 30% experienced diarrhea, and 23% experienced nausea. They also detected an association between some GI problems and behavioral issues such as anxiety and aggression.

Ferguson comments, “We are starting to better understand how gastrointestinal issues coincide with problem behaviors in ASD. For example, we found that individuals with autism and co-occurring nausea were about 11% more likely to display aggressive behaviors. Therefore, addressing the nausea might alleviate the aggressive behaviors which will ultimately increase the quality of life for the patient as well as their family.”

The researchers also discovered differences between younger and older children with ASD. For instance, aggressive behavior in very young children was associated with upper GI issues such as nausea and stomach pains, while anxiety in older children and teens was associated with lower GI issues such as constipation and diarrhea.

Ferguson says, “These findings further highlight the importance of treating gastrointestinal issues in autism. Many children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder are often unable to verbally communicate their discomfort, which can lead to problem behavior as a means of communicating their discomfort.”

This article also appears in Autism Research Review International, Vol. 33, No. 3, 2019

“The relationship among gastrointestinal symptoms, problem behaviors, and internalizing symptoms in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder,” Bradley J. Ferguson, Kristen Dovgan, Nicole Takahashi, and David Q. Beversdorf, Frontiers in Psychiatry, April 9, 2019 (free online). Email

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“Problem behaviors could provide clues on health challenges for children, adolescents with autism,” news release, University of Missouri, June 27, 2019.