For that study, families of 1,185 children enrolled in the Autism Treatment Network filled out questionnaires about GI symptoms, behavior, sleep and quality of life.
About 45 percent reported their children had GI symptoms, such as abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea. The problems were more common as children got older, affecting about 9 percent of children younger than 5 and 51 percent of children 7 and older.
Their symptoms were bad enough to affect the quality of their lives, with about 70 percent of children with GI symptoms having sleep problems, compared with 30 percent who didn't have GI issues, the study found.
Kids with GI issues also have more behavioral issues, possibly because of their lack of sleep, suggests a third study from the meeting, which included 1,056 children in the Autism Treatment Network. It found an association between sleep problems and behavioral issues that included emotional problems and anxiety.
Autism is a complex disorder, and parents are driven by the desire to help their children, said Dr. Paul Law, director of the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. He said he's seen hundreds of alternative treatments tried by parents: supplements and vitamins, acupuncture, acupressure, bathing in distilled water and various types of animal therapy, among them. One mother, Law said, had tried 68 different methods.
Though it's not hard to find testimonials about the effectiveness of one treatment or another, medical evidence that they work is scanty, and the placebo effect can be powerful, Law said.
"There is an adage in medici
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