Studying Best Methods for Assessing and Managing Pain in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

We interviewed 40 children with ASD following a scheduled surgery or traumatic injury to better understand how to treat their pain. Knowing the communication and social interactive challenges children with ASD experience and the fact that hospitalization in a strange environment outside their routine would be extremely stressful, we understood a different approach to pain management was needed. Our findings support that among children with ASD:

  1. It is essential to individualize care by learning words familiar to each child.
  2. Children depend on their parents to help accurately communicate their feelings and needs with staff.
  3. Describing pain is often preferred to using a number scale.
  4. Most are able to talk about their pain and how it feels.
  5. Locating pain is a favored technique to help describe pain.
  6. Facial expressions and body language often do not match pain scores or descriptors of pain intensity.

Disseminating these findings both within CHOP and nationally is helping improve recognition of pain and allowing for more timely and effective pain management, comfort and recovery for children with ASD. This research was published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, December, 2015.