| One-Minute Clinician

Pain and Autism

Autistic individuals often perceive pain differently, either at a greater intensity or lesser intensity. Some autistic individuals are hypersensitive to touch. In a classic encounter, for example, a primary care provider walks in, takes your hand and feels your pulse. They don’t tell you what they’re doing most of the time and most people are kind of used to that by now. An autistic individual might not expect that or might not enjoy the touch or perceive the touch as an offensive feeling.

So you really need to tell people (which you should be doing in good practice anyway), “I’d like to take your hand and feel for your pulse,” and walk people through what you’re doing. Have an understanding that autistic people may not communicate in the same way that other people communicate. An example is when my autistic son broke his hand and two weeks later said, “This feels weird.” Another child would be screaming in pain when they break their hand and would be saying “It hurts!” Somebody with autism might describe it differently because that’s maybe how they perceive it. So we need to be cognizant of how we ask questions and what the responses are.

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