Constipation is commonly seen in autistic people, but with treatment and high fiber meals, it can be reduced.
It’s not uncommon for someone to experience constipation from time to time. After all, sometimes all it takes is a slight change in diet, sleep, or even activity level to cause a “backup” in your regular routine.
But for millions of autistic people, constipation may be a common occurrence that can become a chronic issue if left untreated. In fact,
Ahead, we’ll explore the relationship between autism and constipation, including how autistic folks with chronic constipation can learn to manage this condition.
Results of the study found that more than half of the participants ― roughly 65% ― experienced constipation, with many also experiencing stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea. In addition, the researchers found that older autistic children who had greater anxiety levels were more likely to report having constipation.
One of the reasons that autistic people may be at a higher risk of constipation is because of limited food preferences. For example, one
Behavioral difficulties might also play a role in constipation risk ― especially in children who have rigid toilet-related behaviors, like avoiding going to the bathroom. Some autistic children may even have trouble communicating when they need to poop, which can reinforce these types of behaviors.
Chronic constipation can also affect mood and behavior in autistic children, creating a behavioral cycle. For example, constipation may lead to an increase in symptoms like irritability, hyperactivity, and defiance, which in turn can worsen some of the difficulties mentioned above.
Autistic children can experience difficulties with daily behaviors, like bathing, eating, or using the bathroom. In some children, this can even include having trouble with urination or bowel movements.
Restricted or repetitive behaviors are
A research review in 2016 also shows that autistic people may have a lowered ability to recognize internal cues, making it difficult for children to recognize when they have to use the bathroom.
Frequently withholding bowel movements can also change a child’s ability to recognize when they need to poop.
But for many autistic folks, treating chronic constipation isn’t necessarily as simple as making a few dietary changes. Instead, the focus should be on a combination of behavior-based changes and nutrition recommendations.
Treating constipation in children
Toilet training can be helpful for autistic children because it can reinforce good toilet habits, like peeing and pooping when the urge arises. Because toilet training can be more difficult for autistic children, it can be beneficial to have the help of an occupational therapist or other pediatric expert.
Food-related behavioral training can also help address behaviors that may increase the risk of constipation. For example, creating mealtime and bathroom routines, trying new fiber-rich foods, and adding supplements can all help reduce constipation risk.
Treating constipation in adults
While autistic adults may not have as much trouble with toilet training, other behaviors can make constipation worse ― like forgetting to eat or use the bathroom. In this case, it can be helpful to create new routines, such as having scheduled mealtimes and bathroom visits.
And for autistic adults, it’s also important to treat the constipation directly. Lifestyle changes like increasing water and fiber intake, getting regular exercise, and even practicing bowel training can all help reduce the risk of constipation in adults.
Autistic people have a higher risk of gastrointestinal symptoms, especially chronic constipation. Chronic constipation in autistic folks may be due to several factors, like limited food preferences, rigid bathroom behaviors, and trouble recognizing internal cues, to name a few.
However, with the right behavioral and nutritional approaches, autistic folks can learn to manage their bowel habits and reduce their risk of constipation.