Friday, 13 May 2016

Autism and the [different] expression of pain

Two papers provide some brief discussion today. The first by Janice Goldschmidt [1] titled: 'What Happened to Paul? Manifestation of Abnormal Pain Response for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorder' provides an account of a young man with autism who during a "pilot nutrition intervention designed to teach cooking skills to young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)" fell quite seriously. We are told that: "After his accident, which resulted in broken and dislocated bones in his ankle, his demeanor was dramatically altered, program gains were lost, and staff noted the appearance of many new challenging behaviors."

The second paper by Andrea Courtemanche and colleagues [2] continues a theme looking to "measure expressions of pain among young children being evaluated for autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities." Authors concluded that their results among other things "support that individuals with self-injury may have enhanced expressions of pain."

The commonality in these papers, aside from looking at pain, is the idea that autism might 'lead' to a "blunted pain response" is not necessarily one that fits uniformly across the autism spectrum. To quote: "The consequence is not a reduction in pain sensation, but a different expression of pain, determined by that individual's particular communicative, cognitive, or physiological challenges." Of course science already knows much of what is being said here as I've covered topics such as the fact that yes, people on the autism spectrum do get headaches (see here) and how pain may be quite a significant predictor of things like sleeping problems in relation to autism (see here). I might add that some of the source of that pain could also be linked to some of the over-represented comorbidity that can/does follow a diagnosis of autism (see here) (and hence should be perfectly treatable).

The discussions about self-injury being potentially linked to the expression of pain also ties into related topics covered on this blog insofar as such 'challenging behaviours' normally having some reasoning behind them (see here). Self-injurious behaviour (SIB) can often be a harrowing thing to see (no parent or sibling wants to see a loved one hurting themselves) but with the right investigative approach can sometimes provide important information about a person and their wants and wishes (see here). I don't say that to somehow encourage SIB nor to lessen the impact that biology can have on its expression; merely that some other person perspective-taking should accompany analysis of any behaviours that challenge as and when they present (before reaching for the anti-challenging behaviour meds) as well as making moves towards breaking down things like communication barriers (see here) that potentially contribute to such behavioural manifestations.

Pain is very much part of the human experience. Whilst efforts should indeed continue to ensure that everyone lives a life as pain-free as possible, the importance of short-term pain or rather the importance of short-term pain expression should not be under-estimated. Likewise, sweeping generalisations about altered pain sensitivity applying across the autism spectrum need not necessarily apply. I'm also happy to report that pain is a topic being discussed at IMFAR today...

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[1] Goldschmidt J. What Happened to Paul? Manifestation of Abnormal Pain Response for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Qual Health Res. 2016 Apr 26. pii: 1049732316644415.

[2] Courtemanche AB. et al. The Relationship Between Pain, Self-Injury, and Other Problem Behaviors in Young Children With Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. Am J Intellect Dev Disabil. 2016 May;121(3):194-203.

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ResearchBlogging.org Goldschmidt J (2016). What Happened to Paul? Manifestation of Abnormal Pain Response for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Qualitative health research PMID: 27117957




ResearchBlogging.org Courtemanche AB, Black WR, & Reese RM (2016). The Relationship Between Pain, Self-Injury, and Other Problem Behaviors in Young Children With Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. American journal on intellectual and developmental disabilities, 121 (3), 194-203 PMID: 27119211