Autism and Type 1 Diabetes — No Link

Is there a link between autism and type 1 diabetes in children? In the past some researchers have thought that there might really be such a connection; a few have even suggested that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could actually trigger diabetes. But according to a new study in the journal Diabetic Medicine, children with autism are no more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than other children.

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Lauren G. Kanapka, MSc, one of the authors of the report, said, “Both type 1 diabetes and autism spectrum disorder are common chronic conditions that may present during childhood.” Because children with autism present “extra challenges,” she explained, it’s important to identify other health problems that these children might face.

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Kanapka and her fellow researchers surveyed data taken from over 10,000 children who had type 1 diabetes. Their average age was 13; about half were girls and half were boys and they had had diabetes for about 6 1/2 years. Using records of examinations collected between June 2016 and September 2017, the researchers also determined the presence of autism spectrum disorders, such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder. They identified 159 children with ASD; 88% were boys. After analyzing the numbers, the researchers determined that the frequency of ASD in the registry of children with type 1 diabetes was “similar to that in the general population.” About 1.58% of the children with diabetes were found to have ASD. In the general population the rate is 1.69%. In other words, children with ASD are no more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than any other children.

The researchers also discovered that the children with ASD had slightly lower average levels of blood sugar as measured by HbA1c testing. The ASD children also checked their blood sugar levels a bit more often than the other children with type 1 diabetes. This suggested to the researchers that “those with ASD are more regimented in their diabetes and dietary management or that those with ASD are more likely to have an adult manage their diabetes through adolescence.”

So not only are children with diabetes no more likely to develop ASD than others, but the ones who do have both autism and type 1 diabetes also seem to be managing their diabetes a little better.

Want to learn more about parenting a child with type 1 diabetes? Read “The Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis,” “Type 1 Diabetes and Sleepovers or Field Trips,” “Writing a Section 504 Plan for Diabetes,” and “Top 10 Tips for Better Blood Glucose Control.”

Joseph Gustaitis

A freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area, Gustaitis has a degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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