Related Conditions

The Autism Society lists several conditions related to autism.

Low IQ: Research studies have frequently used inappropriate IQ tests, such as verbal tests with nonverbal children and, in some cases, estimating the child’s intelligence level without any objective evidence. Tests that do not require language skills, such as the Test for Nonverbal Intelligence (TONI), can offer more accurate information about the person.

Seizures: It is estimated 11-39% of autistic individuals also develop seizures, some in early childhood and others as they go through puberty as changes in hormone levels may trigger seizures.4 Suspected seizures should be confirmed by electroencephalogram (EEG) and treated with anticonvulsant medications (as directed by a neurologist).

Chronic Constipation and/or Diarrhea: Recent medical literature cites that 70-80% of autistic children have gastrointestinal symptoms. Diarrhea is most common, abdominal pain is cited next most frequently, and constipation is reported slightly less. Constipation in autism is usually not hard, impacted stools, but the slow passage of stools with long gaps in between, and loose stools when they do come.

Sleep Problems: Many individuals with autism have sleep problems. Night waking may be due to gastrointestinal issues, food/environmental allergies or intolerances, seizures or the effects of medications. Other potential causes might include: sleep apnea (pauses in breathing when the airway becomes obstructed during sleep), sleep terrors and confusional arousals. Children with sensory processing difficulties may have more problems falling asleep and increased periods of night waking.

Pica: About 30% of children with autism have moderate to severe pica. Pica refers to eating non-food items such as paint, sand, dirt, paper, etc. Pica can be dangerous as ingesting these inedible substances can cause choking, digestive problems, parasitic infections and illness.

Low Muscle Tone: About 30% of children with autism have moderate to severe loss of muscle tone, which can limit their gross and fine motor skills.

Sensory Processing Disorder: Many children with autism have unusual sensitivities to sounds, sights, touch, taste and smells. High-pitched intermittent sounds, such as fire alarms, school bells or the dental drill, may be painful to these children. Scratchy fabrics and clothing tags may also be intolerable, and some children have visual sensitivities, such as to the flickering of fluorescent lights.

Allergies/Immune System: Many children with autism also suffer immune system deficiencies or immune dysregulation. Within the autism spectrum population, there are groups that will experience rashes, allergic sensitivities, gastrointestinal, ear and other infections as a result. Immune deficiencies and/or immune dysregulation make a person with autism more vulnerable to infection, chronic inflammation and autoimmune reactions in body systems. These are most frequently observed in the brain and GI tract.4

Pain: Some children with autism have very high pain thresholds (i.e., insensitivity to pain), whereas others have very low pain thresholds.

Hearing and Visual Impairments: Children with a dual diagnosis of autism and a sensory impairment and their families travel many different paths at almost the same time. Some of these are determined by which disorder is identified first. Children born deaf/hard of hearing or blind/visually impaired are usually identified early and receive intervention to support their communication and interaction with their families. Sometimes, children have progressive hearing and visual impairments or a traumatic loss of sensory input. In these cases, sometimes behavioral issues are overlooked or seen as a reaction to blindness or deafness. In other cases, a child’s atypical behaviors are seen as part of their autism and not as compensation or adaptation to the increasing sensory loss. This can complicate the dual diagnoses occurring with a gap of 2 to 8 years.5