Parents and professionals alike have been wondering for a long time about the possible link between autism and chronic pain.
In the past, it was assumed by some that individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) didn’t really feel pain. It was assumed that the intensity of their pain was different. This is a myth and there is more knowledge about the spectrum.
The article Autism and Amplified Muskculoskeletal Pain Syndrome (AMPS). The role sensory factors play in anxiety In Psychology Today It was stated that people who observe self-injurious behavior may have a presumption of a lack of pain. Professionals believed that ASD patients had a decreased pain tolerance.
That preconceived notion has now been debunked, with the article stating: “Research has carefully examined pain responses in controlled experimental settings. These studies show that it’s not that kids on the spectrum don’t have pain. They express their pain in ways that are not immediately obvious to others.
“Indeed, there is a growing body of research indicating that not only do autistic persons have pain but that they experience it to a greater degree than others; particularly in debilitating chronic pain conditions.”
How does autism impact pain responses?
Another interesting study was: Prevalence and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism in children and adolescents suffering from chronic pain This includes research that links individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, (ADHD), and chronic pain.
The article states: “Children with debilitating chronic pain, particularly girls, may present with an elevated risk of having a comorbid, possibly high-functioning, neurodevelopmental disorder. Results suggest that clinical assessment of pediatric chronic pain should include screening for neurodevelopmental disorders.”
Is chronic, or even permanent pain a sign of autism?
Different opinions exist on whether chronic or not. Autism is a spectrum disorder. Multiple symptoms can be present depending on the individual.
Referring to the previous article: Prevalence and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism in children and adolescents suffering from chronic pain A study has been done that shows chronic pain patients have lower executive functions skills. Functional impairments, such as depression or anxiety, are also common in pediatric chronic pain.
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A number of neuropsychological function studies have found a link between chronic pain symptoms, such as abdominal and/or stomach pain, and migraines with ASD and ADHD. However, due to the possibilities that these conditions could go undetected among pediatric patients, the results of a link are unclear until there’s a definitive and consistent way of taking pain measurements.
How can I tell if my child is in pain if they feel it differently?
With the above information and research, how can you determine if your autistic kid is in pain?
It is important to pay attention to these points and then take the appropriate actions.
- Changes in behavior or mood can indicate that someone is suffering from pain.
- Use visuals if possible and think about how someone with autism describes their feelings.
- You can use other communication options (if necessary) to help the individual express their feelings.
- Talk to your child’s doctor and maintain open conversation about any concerns you may have if you fear your child is experiencing pain
In the Psychology Today Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome, (AMPS), is also highlighted in the article. The American College of Rheumatology defines this condition as an umbrella term that encompasses different types of non-inflammatory musculoskeletal symptoms.
AMPS can have the following symptoms and characteristics:
- Extreme pain that gradually gets worse
- The pain may be felt in one location or spread throughout the body.
- Bad sleep habits can cause fatigue and blurred cognitive functioning.
- Light sensitivity to pain that makes it worse (Allodynia).
The American Psychiatric Association notes that depression and anxiety can cause pain to increase, depending on the individual’s sensitivity. This is important to remember as many people with anxiety suffer from it.
What should you do if your child is experiencing pain?
It is a good idea to speak to your doctor if you are concerned that your child may be experiencing pain.
A medical professional who assures you that your child is in no pain will be able to reassure you. You can always get a second opinion if the diagnosis is not convincing. If there is pain of any type, whether it is a chronic pain or not, your child’s doctor can set up treatments to help them feel more comfortable.
Keeping open communication with your child’s doctor could lead to your child being on a pain management program which might include medication. Your doctor may also be able to refer you to professionals such as a chiropractor or occupational therapy.
The light at the other end of the tunnel
Every person has a different threshold for pain. It can be harder to assess the pain that autistic children feel.
It doesn’t matter if children with autism experience acute pain that is intermittent or a more severe disorder such as the AMPS syndrome. To move forward and create a treatment plan, it is crucial to receive a diagnosis.
Good parents want their children have a good quality of life. It is a huge step forward if parents are able put together a pain management program for a child suffering from severe pain.
American Psychiatric Association. (2020). Chronic pain and mental health often interconnect. https://www.psychiatry.org/News-room/APA-Blogs/Chronic-Pain-and-Mental-Health-Interconnected
Bolte, S., Hirvikoski, T., Holmstrom, L., Lekander, M., Lipsker, C.W., & Wicksell, R.K. (2018). A clinical study of adolescents and children with chronic pain found that there was a high prevalence of autism symptoms and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6235327/
Lynch, C. (2020). Autism and Amplified Musculoskeletal pain Syndrome (AMPS),: The role sensory factors and anxiety. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/autism-and-anxiety/202008/autism-and-amplified-musculoskeletal-pain-syndrome-amps
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