Tel Aviv University reports that people with autism have a heightened sensitivity to pain

Dr. Tel Aviv University Faculty of Medicine. According to a recent study initiated by Tami Bar-Shalita, people with autism experience pain at a higher intensity and are less attuned to it than the general population.

This discovery is probably linked to one of the specific symptoms of autism: sensory dysregulation, according to the website of the French Association of Tel Aviv University. This goes against the common belief that autistic people are probably “pain insensitive”.

The study was funded by Israel’s National Science Foundation and approved by the ethics committee of the academic institutions. Published in a prestigious journal BREAD.

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It included 52 high-functioning autistic adults with normal intelligence, the world’s largest sample of pain studies in people with autism to date. Psychophysical pain assessment tests that examine the relationship between stimulus and response were used.

The researchers working on the study hope that their findings will lead to more appropriate treatment for people with autism who do not always express their pain experiences in the usual ways.

Dr. Tami Bar-Shalita. (Credit: Tel Aviv University)

Dr. Bar-Shalita explains, “Almost 10% of the population suffers from sensory dysregulation, that is, sensitivity at a level that disrupts daily activities.” “For example, these subjects have difficulty ignoring or adjusting to the buzzing and flickering of neon lights, the sound of an air conditioner or fan, or someone sitting next to them eating popcorn at night. cinema. In previous laboratory studies, we found that these subjects felt pain more than others. Sensory regulation disorders are often associated with autism and even considered a diagnostic criterion (about 70-90% of people with autism suffer from it) and we wanted to evaluate the perception of pain in autism as an indicator of the severity of the disorders. . In other words, we wondered whether autistic people experience pain in the same way as other subjects with sensory dysregulation. It is a question that has been very little investigated before us.

“We made a variety of measurements to investigate whether the hypersensitivity is caused by overexcitability of the nervous system, or rather by suppression of the mechanisms that allow adaptation and reduce the response to stimuli over time. We found that for people with autism, it’s a combination of both: increased pain signaling coupled with a less effective pain inhibition mechanism. »

“Our study thoroughly and comprehensively examined the level of pain experienced by people with autism,” said Dr. Bar-Shalita concludes. “The general perception is that they are supposedly ‘pain insensitive’ and the doctors and other teams even treat them accordingly. The results of our study show that, in most cases, autistic people actually have a higher pain sensitivity than the general population, and at the same time, they cannot effectively inhibit painful stimuli. We hope that our findings will serve professionals and physicians treating this population and help promote individualized treatment. »

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