The Link between Aggression, Night Awakenings and Gastrointestinal Dysfunction

The Link between Aggression, Night Awakenings and Gastrointestinal Dysfunction

As both autism clinician and autism mom, a magic wand or potion would come in handy when aggression, sleep issues and irritability rule the day!

What happens when challenging behaviors persist after sensory issues, anxiety, environment, frustration and the like have all been addressed?  Many patients are then put on medication to reduce irritability and aggression, which provides only a limited reduction of behaviors.

Relief may be found in information published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (PEDIATRICS Vol. 120 No. 5 November 2007, pp. 1162-1182 (doi:10.1542/peds.2007-2362) and by Dr. Timothy Buie of the Harvard Department of Pediatrics (PEDIATRICS Vol. 125 No. Supplement 1, January 1 2010, pp. S1-S18. (doi: 10.1542/peds. 2009-1878C)   Both publications recommend eliminating underlying sources of pain in the gastrointestinal tract before psychiatric prescriptions are considered. Our award-winning book, The Un-Prescription for Autism, shares our basic GI support protocols to support vibrant health, and get a good’s night sleep. (Click HERE to get the book on Amazon. Only $12.29!)

I often see a culture of denial in many traditional autism doctors.   Most are convinced that only behavioral or pharmaceutical approaches work, and refuse to evaluate the GI tract.  Both the AAP and Dr. Buie’s guidelines state that the GI tract should be evaluated first, before other methods are used.

Realizing that pain in the GI tract can be a big source of aggression and irritability is life-changing.  At my center, we heard the message, we responded with gentle, safe and effective treatments, and we are seeing dramatically positive results!  I do not like to speak negatively of other doctors, but if your pediatrician is pushing medications like Risperidone, Clonidine and Miralax, and hasn’t considered an underlying source of distress such gastrointestinal pain and inflammation – – then I’m sorry, but your doctor has not kept up with the latest research in autism.  Drugging a difficult child into compliance, while leaving them in pain and distress is just not fair.

At least 3 out of 4 of my patients respond positively when these underlying issues are treated.  For some, a painful gut is the entire problem, and rapid improvement in aggression, night awakenings and irritability occurs.  For others, it is just one of several components of challenging behaviors that must be addressed, and treatment will include several approaches.  Either way, the importance of treating these underlying causal factors cannot be underestimated.

Which patients respond the best?  Those with the classic trio of constipation or diarrhea, poor sleep habits, and difficult behaviors, something I have nicknamed “The Unholy Three”.  A restricted eating pattern is usually seen as well.  A simple plan of digestive enzymes, probiotics and beneficial yeast resolve the aggression within 4-12 weeks at my clinic.  (Note:  a temporary increase in difficult behaviors is seen initially.)

So when difficult behaviors and sleep problems arise, look for underlying sources of pain and discomfort.  After healing this hidden source of aggression, proceed with other therapies as needed. (Get the Kindle version HERE for only $3.79)