New Study Finds Autism Not More Common Among Those with Type 1 Diabetes

New Study Finds Autism Not More Common Among Those with Type 1 Diabetes

-Shahd Husein

According to a new study, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is no more common among people with type 1 diabetes than among the general population. Researchers also found that those in the study with both type 1 diabetes and ASD had slightly lower HbA1c than the average population with type 1 diabetes.

The study published in Diabetic Medicine utilized data from the T1D Exchange Clinic Registry to analyze the medical records of over 10,000 children with type 1 diabetes. In addition to studying the rates of autism among this group, researchers also examined blood sugar management among individuals living with type 1 diabetes and ASD, including HbA1c, the use of diabetes technology, and rates of hypoglycemia and diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).  

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The researchers found that 159 children, or about 1.58% of the study population, live with type 1 diabetes and ASD. They found that this figure is statistically similar to the rate of ASD diagnosis among the general population of youth in the U.S, which the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network currently estimates is 1.69%.

They also found that HbA1c was slightly lower for those with type 1 diabetes and ASD (8.4%) than those who did not have an ASD diagnosis among the study population (8.5%). Those with ASD also averaged slightly more blood glucose checks per day (4.2) than among the general study population (4.0). However, rates of DKA and severe hypoglycemia were similar between those with and without an ASD diagnosis. The researchers suggested the differences in blood sugar management outcomes may be attributed to the fact that those with ASD may be more likely to follow a daily “regimented routine”.

The study data also showed that insulin pump use was lower among those with ASD (52%) than among the general study population (63%), but CGM use was not very different when compared to individuals without ASD. The researchers suggested the lower rate of pump use might be due to sensory challenges that those with ASD are more likely than the general population to have.

Lead researcher Kathleen Bethin, MD, PhD, with the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, said she hopes that this study can lay the groundwork for more in-depth research on type 1 diabetes and ASD, according to a Healio report. One possible area of research might be to further study why youth with ASD and type 1 diabetes had lower HbA1c, Dr. Bethin said. Such research may yield insights into blood sugar management among the general population with type 1 diabetes, as well.  

Earlier this year, researchers from the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes in Colorado published similar findings on insulin pump therapy, type 1 diabetes, and autism. These earlier findings noted that children living with both conditions have lower HbA1c levels when compared to the entire clinic population. The researchers also found no increased prevalence of ASD in children with diabetes when compared to those without diabetes.

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