Friday, December 28, 2007

Aspies and Pain Tolerance

Much has been said about aspies & feelings and aspies being able to tolerate higher amounts of pain. I don't think I've gone into either topic in any real depth yet.

In short, Aspies aren't supermen and superwomen... They can be hurt and often are in pain, whether it shows on their faces or not. They just complain about it less than some people I guess.

Emotional Pain
While it's true that sometimes an aspie will lack empathy and won't feel anything for a given situation. I'll discuss that in a later post (sorry). It isn't true to say that the feelings of aspies can't be hurt. They can. Sometimes the aspie will show a reaction to their hurt feelings and sometimes they'll lash out. More often though, aspies will simply remain silent and impassive despite internal turmoil.

Physical Pain
Wouldn't it be wonderful to be in a world without physical pain? Everyone feels pain to some degree - including aspies. It doesn't have to be a huge pain to be felt, a paper cut or scraped knees will always bring tears out in an aspie child.

So where does the "no-pain" idea fit in?

Aspies are very good at ignoring pain, particularly if they're engaged in their special interest. The sorts of pain most commonly "ignored" by aspies are things such as muscular/nervous pain, rather than wounds. Although wounds can also be ignored.

Why is this a problem?
Pain is our body's way of telling us to stop what we're doing and have a rest or seek medical assistance.

You can imagine the long term effects of ignoring a toothache or a muscular/nerve problem like RSI.

In fact, I can speak firsthand about the RSI problem, since I have it. It's strange, when I go to physio for my injured hands, it hurts when they work on them. I take my mind off the hurt but then they ask me whether I can feel "this" (as they squeeze a nerve or something) all the way down my arm to my hand. I can't tell them and it takes a little while to become "switched on" to the pain again.

It's not that the pain is gone, just dulled.


Ily said...

Hi! I'm here from Wrongplanet. This is an interesting post. I'm on the autistic spectrum, but I've always been hyper-sensitive to pain! I always thought it was just an offshoot of all my other hypersensitivities. I wonder if we tend to operate at the extremes...

Erickson's Blog ├četa said...

Hi, \i´m hypersensitive to pain, but if something gets my attention I will just forget some kinds of pain for a little. This is the cause of muscular stress when I'm doing some interesiting thing on computer, or reading some of my favorite topics.

KB said...

Hello, I am one of those Aspies who can cope with physical pain quite well apparently. I had an accident and broke my left clavicle one night.
I walked home and went to bed. When my family saw my wound the next morning they made me go to the hospital and I had surgery.

Anonymous said...

I've known for some time now that my 6 year-old daughter was different from other children her age. It's come to my attention within the past few weeks that hers match the characteristics of a little girl with AS. I've scheduled an evaluation with a developmental pediatrician, but unfortunately have to wait months (unless someone cancels their appointment.) The only thing that doesn't match research that I've found is the Aspy's tolerance for pain. My daughter complains whenever I brush or even wash her hair. The tiniest things are painful to her and she frustrates easily if I can't fix it. Any info would be appreciated......

Gavin Bollard said...


I think you're getting "pain tolerance" and "sensory issues" confused.

Aspies often but not always have high thresholds of pain tolerance. I'm referring to physical pain, cuts, bruises and headaches.

Paradoxically, they often (but again, not always) have high levels of sensory intolerance.

The sensory intolerance tends to mean that certain types of senses cause severe discomfort.

You may find that a tight hug is well received but that a light touch is not.

Hair brushing is a common sensory issue.

chaoseeker said...

Hi, I realize this post isn't new anymore, but hey it's new to me. I live with my 10 year old cousin who is an aspie and were slowly trying to learn about it and how we can parent accordingly. As far as pain goes, he doesn't tolerate it at all. He won't ride a bike, play sports, or anything else that might result in him getting hurt.

On the flip side, he doesn't seem to understand what causes other people pain. If I am playing with him and his sister 9typically tickling) he may come at me with a baseball bat. Not because he's angry, but because he thinks it's fun. His special interest at the moments is weapons. Recently, he has been spreading the violent behavior towards others to the dog. She a really big dog and so some of us tend to play with her roughly. But my cousin takes it to a whole different level, things that are just downright mean.

We've told him he is not aloud to hit other people or things, and that it is not funny. (he seems to think it is) But I honestly don't think he perceives what he is doing as something that would cause pain. Any suggestions on how we might help him to understand why it is wrong so that we can stop the behavior?

Gavin Bollard said...


Your cousin is on dangerous ground at the moment if he doesn't recognise what causes other people pain - and if he special interest is weapons.

It's good that you're looking at ways to teach him because the next few years are crucial.

I don't really know what the best way forward is.

Whenever my youngest son is seen to be harming a person, he goes into time out - and we explain how it hurts. Whenever he's hurting an animal (usually by loving it - squeezing it - too much) we ban him from interactions with the animal for a day or two.

I'm not sure how effective this is but since he doesn't have an interest in weaponry, it's not so critical.

In your cousin's case, he might benefit from some professional help.

Anonymous said...

Of course we have a higher pain tolerance! We're in pain so much that we're used to it!

Anonymous said...

This is wrong. Aspies don't lack empathy, this is a misonception. I care a great deal for other people and don't understand others when they mistreat someone. Aspergians lack emotional awareness, it's like being blind on the emotional level.

Thakery said...


In reality a lack of empathy is really quite common among those with Asperger's. That YOU do not exhibit the trait simply means that YOU do not exhibit the trait. I do, as do the majority of those within our tiny little portion of the spectrum.

One of the pitfalls of Asperger's syndrome is that it isn't a 'thing' that people have, it is a wide array of traits, all of which are linked in some way to the syndrome that Hans Asperger identified.

Not all humans are right-handed, but lacking right-handedness does not make a person any less human.

As they say, once you've met one Aspie, you've met one Aspie...

Regards -

Anonymous said...

I have a rather extreme pain tolerance. As a child, I enjoyed being tickled with feathers and other items that would have driven "normal" folks crazy!

Aaron Smith said...

In regards to high pain threshold, have almost died as a result of ignoring tonsilitis, dehydration, walked home in no discomfort witha dislocated shoulder and broken arm (i felt the pain and was comfortable with it). Regarding empathy, I have a high degree of emotional sensitivity due to decades of practice. On the other hand, my empathy is hit and miss. I had to control my laughter at 11 when I heard my Nanna had died. I was happy that she wouldn't miss Grandad anymore but knew from long experience that death was awkward. I still feel a (group-orientated) shame response rather than any personal guilt due to (supposed) inappropriate thoughts. Also, even with practiced ability to understand emotional context, I can't consistently behave in a mild way.

Patricia Whitaker said...

My aspie daughter is extremely hypersensitive to pain. one scrape and she'll cry for hours. emotional pain she internalizes repeatedly until she explodes.

Anonymous said...

I am aspie, cracked two ribs in a car accident,, didn't even feel it until the following night,, then i was able to manage the pain with advil.. didn't even go to the drs.. found out later during a work chest xtray they were fractured.. dentist also tells me i have a high pain tolerance, both extractions resulted in little or mild pain,, even root canals I didn't need more then some advil.. I will have bumps and bruises I have no memory of getting and minor pains i ignore.. interested to know ths.

Anonymous said...

I fully believe there is a higher pain tolerance. Not on the surface areas but the deeper muscular and skeletal areas. I rarely felt deep slivers once they passed the skin. When it comes to holding hands or picking up another person I guess I do it "too hard". I don't feel my own grip very well. I absolutely hate soft touches against my skin. To me that is painful but I love deep tissue massages that go to the bone myself. My son is Aspie too and has shut off the feeling of having to go #2 sometime during his young life and that sucks because he's now 12 and about 5'6" and STILL can't feel it coming (and you thought it was bad being odd, he's in the gifted classes and poohs himself, that's one hell of a wrap) it is safe to say we are talented at turning off physical pain when we feel the need.

Unknown said...

I have aspregers and honestly thats normal iam 18 and still coping to get along iam add adhd deslexic and high aspergers ... thats perfectly normal she soon will grow out of it . Its because for some our hair has actull nerves not just wast hair is wast pushed out our body , she will grow out of it because people will be touching her hair constint .... yes still be sclitly sneive but only truly way she will stop is if she dose it her self its a trust thing its hard to exsplain really is but if she dose it her self to brush put it up on her own she wont complain .... its hard exspain why we react to this But i want you look in to indigo children by spritul science its middle of the video . But it will go deeper rember all this is just labals we are just as normal as averges theres nothing speacail about us as to you . We all have strenths and weekness just different departments . Take it from some one not only lived a struggle life fightimg for indepents to be able be reliable and indepent but wanted be treated just like everone els bc thats what it is and its horrible people treat us different we feel like a outcast a monster unwanted and it can get really dark for us so put your self in our shoes and see where we stand and feel . It may be hars but thats bc your thinking to deep no one needs meds its just bs to get side effect gov free money sorry but take it from some one that knows if you have any qeustions or need help with a situation my email is

Aspie girl said...

Some aspies are super sensitive to pain, some are half numb, and some are actually both. I am. A blood test really hurts, having a speck of dust in my shoe feels like walking on tiny pieces of broken glass, but when a shelf fell on my head as a child and when I fell down the stairs, hitting my head again and again, and then my school bag fell on my head, the pain was minor. Mostly I was just angry at the stairs, angry at the shelf and the book, as if it was a personal insult.

So when they tell me at the dentist office it won't hurt, I know it just might hurt - a lot, and when my kickboxing instructor told me this hurts, I knew I'd barely feel it. It can get confusing.

Anonymous said...

I potentially may have Aspergers. ( high chance) and I will confirm that I can control the feeling of pain, control it very well, unless if its irritating pain-ish/something... but, especially when I am carrying out a special interest with a strong migraine, you forget about the migraine all together until you get back to doing nothing. Or, a broken bones, deep flesh wounds, when in need i can tune out the pain... I always wondered why people were overly expressive, when i didnt even know autism or aspergers even existed. But in contrast to this pain tune out, i cannot stand being tickled. Its OVERLY sensitive where it feels like pain but is overly irritating to the point of a total melt-down. Do Not Tickle me, as i would rather get a needle in my finger. I am writing for people to get a better understanding of potential variations.