Our Autism Story – Day 22 – “Over / Under Reaction to Pain”
Brahm has many sensory issues and one of them is how he reacts to pain. We have witnessed Brahm over and under reacting to pain in various situations. Probably the most challenging aspect about Brahm sensing pain is that he is normally unable to tell us what exactly hurts, or even if something hurts.
One night, Brahm was having trouble sleeping and was crying periodically throughout the night. When we asked what hurts, he gave a different answer every time (e.g., “my throat hurts” or “my belly hurts”) or would point to a different body part that he was describing. The next morning when we got him up, both Brahm’s eardrums ruptured and his ears were leaking. We had no idea Brahm’s ears were bothering him – he never mentioned them and didn’t wince in pain when we touched them. We felt terrible that we didn’t know his ears were bothering him and that he couldn’t communicate or sense what was actually hurting him.
Brahm likes to play in the snow (and also eat it!). We were clearing the driveway and the kids were playing in the snow in the backyard. Helena came running towards us and told us Brahm took off his boots. When we went over to him, he was barefoot walking in the cold snow. We grabbed him and took him inside and he was not demonstrating any pain. However, Brahm’s feet were freezing cold and still had ice chunks attached to them. We asked Brahm why he took his boots off and Brahm just said he didn’t want his boots on anymore. Luckily, Helena told us quickly after he took off his boots and Brahm was unharmed.
We had an interesting incident recently where Brahm accidentally hit his thumb with a hammer. He immediately started screaming hysterically. We realized he was screaming because of the way his thumb LOOKED (it immediately bruised and swelled), and not that he actually felt pain (although it had to have hurt a ton). If Brahm didn’t look at his thumb, he was not upset. This one was tricky because we were fairly certain his thumb wasn’t broken, but because Brahm can’t really tell us what he is feeling, we took him for x-rays just to be sure.
On the other hand, there are situations where Brahm appears to over react to pain. Brahm was playing the snow with Helena (Again! They like the snow!) while she was waiting for the bus in the morning. Brahm took off his gloves and was playing with snow. As soon as his hands were covered in snow, he began screaming hysterically. We took him inside and warmed-up his hands with water, towels, and later a hairdryer. His hands were not in the snow for more than twenty seconds and it took forty-five minutes for Brahm to calm down.
Pain is really tricky for us as parents. It’s tough when your kid can’t tell you if they get hurt. It’s easier for us to watch Brahm closely to see if he is DOING anything that would cause pain. This is one of the many reasons we look like helicopter parents!
P.S. – Brahm may scream for a number of reasons, including because he is happy, upset, looking for attention, or in pain. It might look strange if we ignore his screaming sometimes (when he’s looking for attention or is happy) because we can generally tell what type of scream it is.