ASD and children’s bone growth: a new perspective
All the experts agree – we need to get children moving more, and sitting less. But what happens when a child’s social anxiety, their awkward social interactions or their physical disabilities leave them isolated or left behind in the playground? And what happens to a child’s health when their maladapted behaviours – rather than […]
All the experts agree – we need to get children moving more, and sitting less. But what happens when a child’s social anxiety, their awkward social interactions or their physical disabilities leave them isolated or left behind in the playground?
And what happens to a child’s health when their maladapted behaviours – rather than ‘picky eating’ – cause them to eat foods of only a certain type, texture or colour?
Dr Rachel Duckham believes her new research into the impact Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has on children’s physical health will potentially change the way we tackle common eating and activity concerns for people living with ASD.
Dr Duckham, who this year received the Capstone Editing Grant for Mid-Career Researchers, says her previous research into the impact sedentary behaviour had on children’s bone growth sparked an interest in other clinical groups facing similar health issues.
“We originally found that children with lower levels of physical activity and fitness had lower bone density,” she said. “That got us thinking, are there children who are more sedentary not just because of low physical activity, but because of a clinical diagnosis? We can’t just focus on healthy individuals’ activity levels and sedentary behaviours – we need to start understanding people at either end of the extremes and work out if or how a clinical diagnosis can impact on growth and development.”
Dr Duckham is working on a new study to compare the differences between children diagnosed with and without ASD, and hopes the findings from this initial study will help her develop larger intervention studies in the future to promote healthy growth and development in ASD children.
While the literature in the area is ‘very limited’, Dr Duckham says some studies have shown that children with ASD have a higher risk of fracture. “I am asking why this is, and what we can do to prevent it,” she said. Later this year, Dr Duckham will join colleagues in the USA who are also keen to understand more about not only the impact of physical activity on bone health, but also the impacts of diet and gut health on bone density in children with ASD.
Ultimately, Dr Duckham hopes the initial trials will help the research team put together an intervention to promote better bone health.
“If you look at the research in terms of bone health in children, the optimal time for maximising bone mass and potentially reducing the risk of fracture later in life is during childhood and adolescents. What happens at this point will impact what happens to us in later life.”
Dr Duckham says her interest in ASD arose after watching her sister struggle with her son’s eating, weight and physical development. “I started to wonder what effect his eating and physical development was having on his musculoskeletal system,” said Dr Duckham. “There is a clinical case study of an ASD child only eating only fried, ‘yellow’ foods – that child ended up presenting with scurvy. Childhood bone health is really a cornerstone for healthy functioning later in life; improvements in bone health may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which is often seen as an older adult disease, but in reality, it’s a childhood disease that only manifests itself later in life.”
“By identifying early precursors of risks, I hope to prevent diseases like osteoporosis for this generation of children.”