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Sharp Instruments and Sensory Integration

Today in the shower I discovered a scrape on my knee. I have no idea how it got there in the first place but it had suddenly started to sting.

Unexplained injuries are par for the course for an aspie. While on a horse farm a few years ago I suddenly got the urge to chop the large branch off the bush we were clearing. So I picked up the nearby axe and swung. I completely missed the branch but to the horror of onlookers, hit my calf instead. I assured everyone I was fine and went on working. After all my swing was neither strong or skilled so my jeans remained intact and I felt no pain. What I did feel was disappointment that my romantic notions of chopping through wood remained unfulfilled. Two days later I realized that my leg was throbbing and when I looked there was a large bruise and small cut where the axe had landed.

Pain is of course the message our body gives when it needs to protect itself or have space to heal. It is essential to our survival and when this warning system is out of balance it can cause problems in more ways than you might realize:

  • Doctors have a difficult time accurately diagnosing and treating medical conditions such as bladder and yeast infections when patients do not experience pain as expected. This can lead to significant medical complications in some situations and some of these can be life threatening.

  • Individuals with high pain tolerance who have had health complications because they didn’t pick up on symptoms may be hypervigilant to compensate for their lack of sensation in the hopes of preventing significant illness in the future. This hypervigilance may be misinterpreted as paranoia, hypochondria or munchausen. And legitimate concerns may be dismissed as a result of these inaccurate impressions by others who do not understand.

  • Long term injuries to the neck and back can occur as a result of lifting, standing or leaning for long periods of time.

  • Delays in sensations may make it hard for caregivers to realize that an individual is actually experiencing pain when they appear irritable or out of sorts.

There can be advantages to high pain tolerance too. Aspies often report:

  • Being able to hold it together in a crisis situation when other people break down

  • Positive experiences during pregnancy and childbirth

  • Less pain and discomfort during illness and medical procedures

What’s to be done?

  • When treating anyone with sensory integration challenges, medical providers should understand that patient reports of pain or discomfort may not be a good indication of the actual condition. Other measure such as lab results and x rays may play a more important role in these situations.

  • Individuals with sensory integration challenges should not be diagnosed with mental health disorders such as Factitious Disorder (formerly Munchausen) as these “symptoms” are likely a result of compensation techniques based on previous health problems that were a result of not feeling the usual symptoms of a condition.

  • Individuals on the spectrum should be reminded to perform regular body scans through the day. Especially those who work in jobs that require standing, lifting or repetitive motions.

  • Maintain good posture, place padding on cement flooring and wear good shoes as preventative measures.

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