Sudden pain flares, traveling pain, debilitating headaches, joint strain. Recently, I’ve been getting asked about my chronic pain struggles, and more specifically, I’ve been receiving questions like, “What does chronic pain have to do with autism.” Studies have shown that individuals with autism are more likely to experience amplified and chronic pain. Even so, this subject is greatly understudied. So what’s going on here?
What we do know is that chronic pain and ASD often go hand-in-hand due to two key factors: 1) Comorbid diagnoses, and 2) Sensory compoundment. Let’s look at these in detail, so maybe we can get to the root of our pain, and perhaps find a jumping off point for trearment.
1) Comorbid Diagnoses: Autism Spectrum Disorder usually refers to repetitive behaviors and interests, social/communication struggles, and strong responses to sensory input. But almost every autie I know (myself included) shares a smorgasbord of additional traits and/or conditions. These conditions are commonly diagnosed alongside ASD, but they are not ASD. In other words, they are comorbid diagnoses. Gastrointestinal issues like IBS; joint disorders like EDS and Hypermobility Syndrome; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Epilepsy. The list goes on and on. And when you look up the symptoms for many of these conditions, you’ll often find one symptom that they have in common: chronic pain.
2) Sensory Compoundment: When an autistic individual is living through any given day, we often found our senses overwhelmed by sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Our brains do not filter the same way that an NT brain might. We experience everything. As a result, we often get overloaded. How does the body often react to this sensory overstimulation? Pain. We might get headaches from too much sensory input, muscle pain from tensing ourselves when under stress, or stomach issues from internalizing all the stimulation. Chronic pain can be the end result if our environments are not supportive.