Children with autism are about twice as likely to experience chronic or repeated pain as their non-autistic peers, according to a new large study led by Danielle Shapiro, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan.
According to Shapiro, the study shows that pain is “a really common experience for kids with autism.”
“They’re experiencing physical pain, even though it’s not typically thought of as a core feature of [autism].”
In conducting the study, Shapiro and a colleague used data from the 2016-2017 U.S. National Survey of Children’s Health, a questionnaire that asks parents about their children’s medical diagnoses, and whether the children experienced chronic or repeated pain over the previous year. Shapiro and her colleague’s analysis included 50,63 children aged 6-17 years old, 1,472 of whom had autism.
Ultimately, the team found that about 16 percent of children with autism experienced chronic or repeated pain the previous year. By contrast, only 8 percent of typical children experienced frequent pain, according to their parents. The findings were published on October 28 in JAMA Pediatrics.
Shapiro hopes the study will inspire further pain research, including studies that explore the sources of autistic children’s pain.
“That would serve as a pathway to help us think about how to address pain in kids with autism,” she said.