Celiac & Behavoural Changes in Children

Having a child with behavioural issues does not mean your child has celiac disease. Many food sensitivities can cause these changes in behaviour. Furthermore, your child’s behaviour may have nothing to do with food sensitivities and could be a sign of mental illness. If your child is acting out or you are observing other changes in behaviour you should talk to your doctor about possible causes.

What Behavioural changes can be associated with celiac disease in children?

Anxiety – According to the CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Health)

When children do not outgrow the fears and worries that are typical in young children, or when there are so many fears and worries that they interfere with school, home, or play activities, the child may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Examples of different types of anxiety disorders include Separation anxiety – Phobias – Social Anxiety – General Anxiety – Panic Disorder

Anxiety may present as fear or worry, but can also make children irritable and angry. Anxiety symptoms can also include trouble sleeping, as well as physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches. Some anxious children keep their worries to themselves and, thus, the symptoms can be missed.” To read more about children and anxiety disorders click here.

Disruptive Behaviour – According to Nationwide Children’s

Children with oppositional defiant disorder often lose their temper. They are quick to argue with adults over rules or requests. They are likely to: Be uncooperative – Argue, even about small and unimportant things – Refuse to follow rules – Deliberately annoy others, and become easily annoyed by other people – Blame others for their mistakes or misbehavior – Behave in angry, resentful, spiteful, and vindictive ways.

Anyone is capable of displaying any of these behaviors. Children with oppositional defiant disorder display them more often than others their age. They are likely to be involved in frequent conflicts with their peers. And they often face discipline at school. ” To read more on disruptive behaviour in children and teens click here.

Depression – According to the CDC

“Occasionally being sad or feeling hopeless is a part of every child’s life. However, some children feel sad or uninterested in things that they used to enjoy, or feel helpless or hopeless in situations they are able to change. When children feel persistent sadness and hopelessness, they may be diagnosed with depression.

Examples of behaviors often seen in children with depression includeFeeling sad, hopeless, or irritable a lot of the time – Not wanting to do, or enjoy doing, fun things – Showing changes in eating patterns – Changes in sleep patterns – Changes in energy (being tired/ sluggish or tense and restless a lot of the time) – Having a hard time paying attention – Feeling worthless, useless, or guilty – Showing self-injury and self-destructive behaviour.”

Extreme depression can lead a child to think about suicide or plan for suicide. For youth ages 10-24 years, suicide is among the leading causes of death”. Read about youth suicide preventionexternal icon

Some children may not talk about their helpless and hopeless thoughts, and may not appear sad. Depression might also cause a child to make trouble or act unmotivated, causing others not to notice that the child is depressed, or to incorrectly label the child as a trouble-maker or lazy.” To read more about depression in children click here.

ADHD – According to the Mayo Clinic

The primary features of ADHD include inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior. ADHD symptoms start before age 12, and in some children, they’re noticeable as early as 3 years of age. ADHD symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe, and they may continue into adulthood.

ADHD occurs more often in males than in females, and behaviors can be different in boys and girls. For example, boys may be more hyperactive and girls may tend to be quietly inattentive.

There are three subtypes of ADHD:

  • Predominantly inattentive. The majority of symptoms fall under inattention.
  • Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive. The majority of symptoms are hyperactive and impulsive.
  • Combined. This is a mix of inattentive symptoms and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms.” To read more about ADHD in children and teens click here.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk to your doctor if you think your child may have any of these disorders.

How are these disorders linked to celiac disease? According to TheCeliacScene

Celiac disease is associated with behavioral and emotional disorders in children, but in most studies the psychopathology is detected in the setting of already knowing a child has celiac disease.

What about before the diagnosis of celiac disease is made?

Do children with behavioral issues have a higher likelihood of developing celiac disease compared to children who do not have this gastrointestinal autoimmune disorder?

Researchers studied this question and share the results of their population-based cohort study of over 3,700 children who were tested for celiac disease at a median age of 6 years but were asked about behavior or emotional problems prior to having that diagnosis made.

Results indicate that celiac disease autoimmunity was more likely to be found in children who had anxiety problems or oppositional defiant problems, and these children did not necessarily have gastrointestinal symptoms.” To read more about this study click here.

My Story

Looking back on my childhood and analyzing my behaviour with the help of a therapist I realized I was the poster child for “Anxiety” in children. I exhibited almost all of the traits that a child with an anxiety disorder would have. The most prevalent was my irrational fear that someone was under my bed, in my closet, or hiding in the house. I remember getting up to go to the bathroom as a child and being terrified to walk down the hall for fear of someone being there to hurt me. I would often take a blanket and a pillow and sleep on the floor in my parent’s bedroom (I felt safer there). As I grew older my fear escalated into an OCD behaviour which disrupted my sleep and my daily living. Thankfully I found an amazing therapist that was able to help me with my irrational fears and I am no longer paranoid that someone is hiding in my house. It does creep back in from time to time, but I just remember what she taught me, follow the steps and the fear goes away.

I also had difficulty paying attention in school. It was like I was on another planet. Children often made fun of me by calling me “Spacey Stacey.” This, along with other types of bullying left me feeling depressed. I was paranoid and untrusting of other children and assumed it wasn’t possible for others to like me. These feelings also followed me into adulthood. I often still feel this way. Emotional outbursts for no apparent reason is another trait that followed me from childhood into adulthood. Thankfully with medication, I have more control over my emotional outbursts.

In 2009 I was diagnosed with celiac disease. In 2010 I was diagnosed with severe depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I have no idea if living with undiagnosed celiac disease contributed to the mental health disorders I now experience as an adult. I can tell you that I cannot function well in my day-to-day life. I am unable to complete the tasks necessary for day-to-day living and my quality of life is not great.

Mental illness is very serious in both adults and children. I often wonder if I had help as a child working through my troubles if life would be different for me today. I have no way of knowing that. I believe that the earlier you get treatment for behavioural problems (mental illness or not), the better chance you have as an adult to live a more fulfilling life. I grew up in the 70s and 80s where these problems were simply thought of as quirks in a child’s personality. Now with research, we know that is not necessarily true. If your child is showing any of the behaviours I have mentioned in this article, I hope you will learn from my story and talk to your family doctor. For your child, it may be as simple as a food sensitivity or celiac disease, or it may be the early signs of mental illness. Either way, it is not worth the risk. My hope for sharing my personal story (the short version), is that parents will pay closer attention to their child’s behaviour and that any child in need of help will get it.

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