Objectives: To investigate feeding and gastrointestinal complaints in a community-based sample of young children with ASDs and other developmental delays.
Methods: The 236 participants were given a developmental evaluation after screening positive on the M-CHAT. After evaluation at approximately age two, 134 children were diagnosed with an ASD and 102 with other developmental delays (DD).
Results: Χ² analyses revealed no significant differences between the ASD and DD groups in parentally reported spitting up/vomiting, food sensitivities or allergies, constipation, diarrhea, or other GI symptoms. Significantly higher rates of early feeding problems and gagging in infancy were found in the DD sample. Analyses comparing the characteristics of children with ASDs with and without GI symptoms found no significant differences in autism symptom profiles or severity, developmental levels, or adaptive skills. 106 children (70 with ASD and 36 with DD) were re-evaluated at approximately age four. There were no significant differences found between diagnostic groups in parentally reported diarrhea, constipation, other GI problems, or food allergies. There continued to be no significant differences between children with ASDs with and without GI complaints.
Conclusions: In this sample of young community-based children with ASDs and other developmental delays, no significant group differences in parentally reported feeding problems and gastrointestinal symptoms were found at age two or at age four. Most published research has been conducted at specialty GI or DD/ASD clinics with older children. The results of this study suggest that their findings may not be applicable to young children or to children evaluated in community settings. While GI problems may be increased in children with developmental disorders, we found no evidence that they were specific to autism spectrum disorders.