People with autism have such a wide variety of symptoms and experiences, it can be challenging to address the condition in general terms. For example, there are many physical signs and consequences experienced by autistic people that may never surface in a large portion of the autistic population, but that doesn't mean they're not related to the disorder.
Some of the most common physical effects of autism include sensory sensitivity (or lack thereof), gastrointestinal problems and coordination.
A person's sensory sensitivities can greatly influence the way he or she interacts with the world. For example, a high tolerance or indifference to pain, as is often found among autistic individuals, can have serious physical consequences.
Think for a moment what you might do if you burn your hand or otherwise injure yourself: You'd probably give it some sort of medical attention, either at home or at a doctor's office, because the discomfort you've suffered as a result has interrupted your regular activities or daily routine. Because injuries often have complications, it's important to have a doctor look into what's causing you pain. If an autistic person is unbothered by pain, he or she may not seek medical attention, allowing the issue to potentially inflict more damage on his or her body.
Sensitivity to light and sound can also make it difficult for autistic people to go into uncontrolled environments, limiting their capacity for physical activity. Research suggests that exercise is beneficial to people with autism, but helping an autistic person get active isn't as simple as stepping through the front door to go on a job. Careful consideration needs to be taken to accommodate sensitivities, coordination and comfort with new things.
Digestive issues often occur in people on the autism spectrum. Other than the discomfort related to gastrointestinal (GI) issues, there are health consequences. For example, chronic diarrhea could mean a person isn't getting all the necessary nutrients they may have ingested, opening up the possibility of vitamin deficiencies and other symptoms of malnutrition.
An autistic person's physical health is paramount, and their disorder should not be an excuse to ignore or minimize the significance common symptoms like GI problems, diminished coordination or sensory sensitivities. Discuss treatment options with a pediatrician or primary care provider familiar with the disorder and its implications, but trust your instincts, too. As the family member of someone with autism, you're more in-tune to that person's needs than anyone else.