Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 165–176 | Cite as

Anxiety, Sensory Over-Responsivity, and Gastrointestinal Problems in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Micah O. MazurekEmail author
  • Roma A. Vasa
  • Luther G. Kalb
  • Stephen M. Kanne
  • Daniel Rosenberg
  • Amy Keefer
  • Donna S. Murray
  • Brian Freedman
  • Lea Ann Lowery


Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) experience high rates of anxiety, sensory processing problems, and gastrointestinal (GI) problems; however, the associations among these symptoms in children with ASD have not been previously examined. The current study examined bivariate and multivariate relations among anxiety, sensory over-responsivity, and chronic GI problems in a sample of 2,973 children with ASD enrolled in the Autism Treatment Network (ages 2–17 years, 81.6 % male). Twenty-four percent of the sample experienced at least one type of chronic GI problem (constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and/or nausea lasting three or more months). Children with each type of GI problem had significantly higher rates of both anxiety and sensory over-responsivity. Sensory over-responsivity and anxiety were highly associated, and each provided unique contributions to the prediction of chronic GI problems in logistic regression analyses. The results indicate that anxiety, sensory over-responsivity and GI problems are possibly interrelated phenomenon for children with ASD, and may have common underlying mechanisms.


Autism spectrum disorders Anxiety Sensory over-responsivity Gastrointestinal problems 



The authors acknowledge the members of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (AS ATN) for use of the data. The data for the study was collected as part of the AS ATN. Further support came from a cooperative agreement (UA3 MC 11054) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Research Program, to the Massachusetts General Hospital. The AS ATN includes these members: Clinical Coordinating Center, Mass General Hospital for Children: James Perrin, MD, Dan Coury, MD; Autism Speaks: Clara Lajonchere, PhD, Nancy Jones, PhD; EMMES Corporation: Traci Clemons, PhD; Baylor College of Medicine: Diane Treadwell-Deering, MD, Daniel Glaze, MD; Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab, Surry Place Centre & the Hospital for Sick Children: Alvin Loh, MD, Wendy Roberts, MD, Evdokia Anagnostou, MD; Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center: Patricia Manning-Courtney, MD; Columbia University Medical Center: Agnes Whitaker, MD, Reet Sidhu, MD, Maureen McSwiggan-Hardin, APRN, BC, NP-P; Alberta Health Services & Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital: Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, MD, Carole Anne Hapchyn, MD; Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles: Michele Kipke, PhD, Larry Yin, MD; Vanderbilt University Medical School: Beth Malow, MD, MS, Nirupama Madduri, MD, Zachary Warren, PhD, Robert Steiner, MD; University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences & Arkansas Children’s Hospital: Maya Lopez, MD, Jill James, PhD; University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine & the Children’s Hospital: Ann Reynolds, MD, Cordelia Robinson, PhD, RN, Sandra Friedman, MD; University of Missouri: Kristin Sohl, MD, David Beversdorf, MD, Micah Mazurek, PhD, University of Pittsburgh: Benjamin Handen, PhD, Cynthia Johnson, PhD, Nancy Minshew, MD; University of Rochester: Susan Hyman, MD, Tristram Smith, PhD; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Amanda Bennett, MD, MPH, Susan Levy, MD; Nationwide Children’s Hospital: Eric Butter, PhD, Karen Ratliff-Schaub, MD; Lurie Center/LADDERS: Margaret Bauman, MD, Ann Neumeyer, MD. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Micah O. Mazurek
    • 1
    Email author
  • Roma A. Vasa
    • 2
  • Luther G. Kalb
    • 3
  • Stephen M. Kanne
    • 4
  • Daniel Rosenberg
    • 5
  • Amy Keefer
    • 3
  • Donna S. Murray
    • 6
  • Brian Freedman
    • 7
  • Lea Ann Lowery
    • 8
  1. 1.Department of Health Psychology and Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental DisordersUniversity of Missouri – ColumbiaColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Department of PsychiatryJohns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Center for Autism and Related DisordersKennedy Krieger InstituteBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Department of PediatricsPsychology Section, Baylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA
  5. 5.The EMMES CorporationRockvilleUSA
  6. 6.The Kelly O’Leary Center of Autism Spectrum Disorders, Division of Developmental & Behavioral PediatricsCincinnati Children’s Hospital, University of Cincinnati College of MedicineCincinnatiUSA
  7. 7.Center for Disabilities StudiesUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA
  8. 8.Department of Occupational Therapy and Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental DisordersUniversity of Missouri-ColumbiaColumbiaUSA

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