Many children and adults with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have comorbid health problems. Recent large-scale studies have confirmed that several medical conditions are significantly more prevalent in people with autism compared to the typical population.
This list below shows some of the more common co-occurring conditions.
78% - Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory processing is how we take in information through our senses. Many people with autism have sensory processing disorder, which involves unusual sensitivities to sounds, sights, touch, taste and smells. High-pitched sounds, such as fire alarms or school bells, may be painful. Scratchy fabrics and clothing tags may be intolerable, and some individuals have visual sensitivities, such as to the flickering of fluorescent lights. This can increase anxiety, prevent sleep, or functioning in overstimulating environments such as school.
50% to 80% - Sleep Disorder
Many individuals with autism have sleep problems. Some individuals may have trouble falling asleep, while others may have trouble waking up at night and not be able to go back to sleep. Possible reasons may be due to gastrointestinal issues, allergies, environmental intolerances, seizures, effects of medications, sleep apnea or sleep terrors.
Individuals with sensory processing difficulties may have more problems falling asleep and increased periods of night waking.
70% - Depression
A study published in the Annals of General Psychiatry examined which psychiatric disorders are more frequently associated with autism. The evaluation of young adults with “high functioning autism” revealed that 70% had experienced at least one episode of major depression and 50% reported recurrent major depression.
54% - Intellectual Disabilities
Intellectual disabilities was thought to be common with individuals with autism. Today, almost half (46%) of children identified with ASD had average or above average intellectual ability (IQ greater than 85). (CDC 2014).
45% to 47% - Chronic Constipation and/or Diarrhea
Medical studies have shown about 45% of children with autism and 47% of adults on the spectrum 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.
30% - Epilepsy
A seizure is a single occurrence and epilepsy is defined as two or more unprovoked seizures. Sometimes epilepsy is developed in early childhood, while others may start having seizures as they go through hormone level changes in puberty. Research shows that individuals with autism and untreated epilepsy are at greater risk for overall poor health, and in extreme circumstances, premature death. Compared to those without seizures, children with Autism and seizures are also more likely to have sleep difficulties and behavior problems.
11% to 84% - Anxiety
Many anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder, are not commonly diagnosed in people with Autism because it is often difficult to tell whether symptoms are part of Autism or anxiety. Symptoms can be affected by age, level of cognitive functioning, degree of social impairment, and ASD-specific difficulties.
30% - Pica
About 30 percent of children with autism have moderate to severe pica, which means they eat 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 other illnesses.