Associated Medical and Physical Concerns

Several medical and physical issues are often seen in conjunction with ASD.

A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain. A child who has had more than one unprovoked seizure may be diagnosed with a condition called epilepsy. Between 1/2 and 1% of all children have epilepsy. In children with autism that number may be as high as 42%.

Epilepsy is usually treated by a neurologist, a physician who specializes in problems of the brain and nervous system. Treatment of epilepsy in children with autism is similar to its treatment in other children, so a child with autism and epilepsy will need to be seen by a neurologist for evaluation and treatment of that problem.

Fragile X Syndrome is a genetic condition and often associated with autism. It is the most common form of inherited intellectual disability, and children with fragile X syndrome often have additional problems with learning, attention, language skills and anxiety.

Between 1% and 4% of children with autism also have tuberous sclerosis. Tuberous sclerosis is a genetic disorder that affects many different organ systems including the skin, brain, eyes, heart, and kidneys, and as a result treatment can require ongoing support from doctors in many different medical specialties.

Some gastrointestinal problems often seen in children with autism include constipation and encopresis, diarrhea, and reflux. When these problems are present, the treatment team should include a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in problems of the digestive tract.

Sleep problems are common in children with autism, who often experience difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, and inadequate sleep time. Poor sleep can worsen daytime attention and irritability, and the collection of habits, practices and routines known to improve sleep is called sleep hygiene. Education, guidance, and assistance in improving sleep hygiene continues to be the main treatment for sleep problems at this time.

Unintentional injury is the leading cause of hospitalizations and deaths in children under age 18, and children with ASD, who may be more impulsive or less aware of danger, can be at even greater risk of serious accidental injury.

Children with ASD have a higher rate of various mental disorders such as Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).