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      Excessive drinking of fluids in children and adults on the autism spectrum: a brief report


      Advances in Autism

      Emerald Publishing

      Autism, Challenging behaviour, Adults, Child, Excessive drinking, Polydipsia

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          – Excessive drinking of fluids occurs across the autism spectrum but despite the detrimental and potentially hazardous consequences very few studies of this phenomenon have been published. Literature on the topic is sparse. The purpose of this paper is to explore the issues via a large on-line survey and a clinic sample. It is hoped this study will encourage further interest in and investigation including exploration of the links with the neurology underlying autistic conditions.


          – Results were obtained via a large on-line survey of autistic individuals and parents and carers ( n=637) and data from referrals to a single diagnostic assessment and diagnostic clinic.


          – Of 634 respondents of the on-line survey 474 reported excessive drinking of fluids in severe form. Almost two-thirds stated that this started before the age of five years. Of the children and adults seen at the clinic approximately one-third had dunk fluids excessively in the past. The effects of gender, type of autism condition, intellectual disability, reported stress and associated conditions were examined as were the type of fluids drunk and rate of drinking. The response to having to wait for a drink and the occurrence of vomiting and diarrhoea were also examined.

          Research limitations/implications

          – This is a preliminary study but with a large sample size. Limitations lie in the sparse amount of literature on this topic as it affects autism and reliance on parental and self-reports from an on-line survey, the majority of whom responded to an appeal for participants for whom excessive drinking of fluids was an established problem. The clinic sample comprised children and adults who had not been referred for reasons connected to excessive drinking of fluids but for whom this was still a significant problem. A further limitation concerns the absence of data on sensory profiles. This would be worth including in any follow up.

          Practical implications

          – It is important to be aware of the implications of excessive drinking of fluids on the health and well-being of children and adults on the autism spectrum. As there are potentially lethal consequences associated with such behaviours it is essential that they are recognised, understood and responded to.

          Social implications

          – Excessive drinking of fluids has implications for the development of the child and far reaching consequences for physical and social well-being.


          – This is an original paper that draws on the limited literature available but is primarily based on the results of a unique on-line survey and evaluation of a clinic sample.

          Related collections

          Most cited references 8

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          The Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders: background, inter-rater reliability and clinical use

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            The Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders: algorithms for ICD-10 childhood autism and Wing and Gould autistic spectrum disorder

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              The dipsomania of great distance: water intoxication in an Ironman triathlete

              Of 371 athletes (62% of all finishers) whose weights were measured before and after the 226 km South African Ironman Triathlon, the athlete who gained the most weight (3.6 kg) during the race was the only competitor to develop symptomatic hyponatraemia. During recovery, he excreted an excess of 4.6 litres of urine. This case report again confirms that symptomatic hyponatraemia is caused by considerable fluid overload independent of appreciable NaCl losses. Hence prevention of the condition requires that athletes be warned not to drink excessively large volumes of fluid (dipsomania) during very prolonged exercise. This case report also shows that there is a delayed diuresis in this condition and that it is not caused by renal failure.

                Author and article information

                Advances in Autism
                Emerald Publishing
                29 October 2015
                29 October 2015
                : 1
                : 2
                : 51-60
                Research Autism, London, United Kingdom AND Department of Psychology, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom AND CASD, Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia
                The Lorna Wing Centre, National Autistic Society, Bromley, Kent, United Kingdom
                © Emerald Group Publishing Limited
                Research paper
                Health & social care
                Learning & intellectual disabilities
                Custom metadata

                Health & Social care

                Polydipsia, Excessive drinking, Child, Adults, Challenging behaviour, Autism


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