Oct. 23 (UPI) -- A short questionnaire could help identify gastrointestinal disorders in autistic children who are often difficult to screen because they are non-verbal, according to a study.
Pediatric gastroenterologists and psychiatrists developed a 17-item questionnaire that could spot gastrointestinal disorders that need to be referred to a specialist for a fuller evaluation. The findings were published Tuesday in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Autistic children are nearly eight times more likely to suffer from one or more chronic gastrointestinal disorders than other kids, according to Autism Speaks.
"Gastrointestinal problems can be painful and disabling and they can have profound effects on a child's behavior," Dr. Kara Gross Margolis, associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said in a press release.
But the researchers said because of sensory processing impairments in autism, even some verbal children can't explain the location of their discomfort.
Margolis, working with colleagues at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Boston University, and Massachusetts General Hospital, gave 131 parents of children with autism 35 questions designed to assess observable signs of three common GI conditions: constipation, diarrhea and reflux disease.
Symptoms include gagging during meals, applying pressure to the abdomen and arching the back.
Pediatric gastroenterologists, who were unaware of the parents' answers, were asked to evaluate the children.
Based on seventeen questions, GI disorders were correctly among 84 percent of the cases.
And one-third of children who screened positive for a GI disorder didn't actually have one.
"For a screening device, this false-positive rate seems acceptable to us, given that the test correctly identified over 80 percent of the participants who had GI problems," Margolis said.
Researchers are conducting further study before it can be used reliably by parents and primary care providers.