What Kinds of Health Problems Do Children With Autism Have?

Different children with autism have different reactions and problems at different levels. Here are some of the problems that frequently accompany autism:

Sensory problems

A great number of children with autism are highly aware of, or even painfully sensitive to, certain sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. Some children find the feel of clothes touching their skin almost unbearable. Some sounds – a vacuum cleaner, a ringing telephone, a sudden storm, even the sound of waves lapping the shoreline – will cause these children to cover their ears and scream.

In autism, the brain seems unable to balance the senses appropriately. Some children don’t seem to notice extreme cold or pain. One child with autism may fall and break an arm, yet never cry. Another may scream with alarm when lightly touched.

Mental retardation

Many children with autism have some mental dysfunction. When tested, some areas of ability may be normal, while others may be especially weak. For example, a child with autism may do well on the parts of the test that measure visual skills but earn low scores on the language portion.


One in four children with autism will develop seizures, which often start either in early childhood or when they become teenagers. 5 Seizures, caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, can produce a temporary loss of consciousness (a “blackout”), a body convulsion, unusual movements, or staring spells. Sometimes a contributing factor is a lack of sleep or a high fever. An EEG (electroencephalogram – a recording of the electric currents developed in the brain by means of electrodes applied to the scalp) can help confirm the seizure’s presence.

In most cases, seizures can be controlled by a number of medicines called “anticonvulsants.” The dosage of the medication is adjusted carefully so that the least possible amount of medication will be used to be effective.

Fragile X syndrome

Fragile X syndrome is the most common inherited form of mental retardation. It was because one part of the X chromosome has a defective piece that appears pinched and fragile when viewed under a microscope. Fragile X syndrome affects about two to five percent of people with autism.

It is important for children with ASD to be checked for Fragile X, especially if the parents are considering having another child. For an unknown reason, if a child with ASD also has Fragile X, there is a one-in-two chance that boys born to the same parents will have the syndrome. 6 Other members of the family who may be thinking of having a child may also wish to be checked for the syndrome.

Tuberous Sclerosis

Tuberous sclerosis is a rare genetic problem that causes benign (not cancerous) tumors to grow in the brain as well as in other important organs. One to four percent of people with autism also have tuberous sclerosis.

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Want to learn more about autism?

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Autism Speaks