Sticks and Stones and Autism Break Bones

A new autism study has found that people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have much higher rates of bone fracture than people not on the spectrum. This may be due in part to decreased bone density and partly to common differences in nutrition and exercise among the autistic population.

The nationwide study, led by Harvard neurologist Ann Neumeyer and endocrinologist Madhusmita Misra began as a small pilot study of 37 adolescent boys, 18 with ASD and 19 without. The autistic boys were found to have lower bone density, but the sampling was too small to produce conclusive results. This lead the researchers to review emergency room records across the country from 2010, comparing fracture rates 22,537 people affected by autism to 17.8million people without ASD diagnoses ranging from childhood to age 50. The results were startling.

The greatest disparity in fracture rates was found in the female population, where autistic girls had eight times higher incidence of hip fractures and the rate of spinal fractures among women were ten times higher for those with ASD. Women with autism were also found to be twice as likely to suffer arm, wrist, and hand fractures. Autistic men and women between the ages of 23 and 50 were found to have nearly twelve times the rate of hip fracture than other adults and boys with autism had double the rate of hip fracture.

While largely considered a neurological condition, autism also is known to affect other systems throughout the body. Whether this decreased bone density is due to autism affecting the skeletal system, the established digestive issues that impact the absorption of key vitamins and minerals in many autistic people, or is a result of differences in diet and exercise is not yet known.

“We need to learn more about bone development in autism and how to optimize bone development in children with autism,” says Dr. Neumeyer.  Before changing diet or exercise regimes, it is always wise to consult your or your child’s doctor, but increasing consumption of calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and exercise are known to help build stronger bones.