December 29, 2014

Autistic and Sick

Being both Autistic and sick brings things to a whole other level. By "sick," I'm talking about colds and flu, not long term, more serious illnesses. Those have their own issues, but I don't have enough personal experience to cover them.

What makes the act of being sick while Autistic slightly different from NTs is the sensory issues involved. Many of us are already slightly uncomfortable in our bodies to begin with. When you add the different sensations of sickness, it's a struggle.

Some of us don't even know we're sick until we're quite into it. That's because for those of us who are hyposensitive, we don't register certain feelings or pain like others do. For example, someone may not notice a sore throat or headache until it is REALLY bad. Instead, our behaviour may change (more quiet, more hyper, more stimmy, more agitation, for example) but we don't feel it as pain.

This is the reason I own a stethoscope and otoscope . Even though my son can speak, he is not able to tell me he is in pain. I observe his behaviour and know now that when he starts getting very hyper, chatty and wanting to cuddle, he is getting a fever.

When he is quiet and lacks appetite, I look for signs of pain in his ears and throat. This past week, I knew something was off and looked in his throat. His left tonsil was hugely swollen. When I asked if it hurt, he said no, but it's obvious that something that big and red would hurt. After some pain relief, he was back to his old self. The otoscope is probably one of the best investments I've ever made as a parent!

I, on the other hand, am hyper-aware of my body and know when I'm getting a cold. Even as a child, I would look up my symptoms in a book and diagnose myself before my mom took me to the doctor. I would proudly walk into the doctor's office and when asked what was wrong, would confidently declare: "I have pharyngitis. I need the pink liquid you gave me last time."
The doctor would examine me, chuckle and say, "why yes, the little lady is right!"
(And why no one saw that as a sign of autism is beyond me!)

Out Sick by copyright 2014

One way sickness manifests itself for me is a horrible feeling of irritation. When I get a head cold, it feels like my skin is itching from the inside. It makes me feel anxious and extremely uncomfortable.

Having a stuffy nose and not being able to breathe as we're accustomed to is another level of frustration. It also adds a level of irritation and reduces our ability to cope with regular things.

When I get a flu with body aches, even my hair hurts. It is strange to describe it, but I can feel my hair (hypersensitive). I know I am really sick when my whole head, scalp and hair hurt.

With all these different sensations and some of us feeling more or less pain than others, it can quickly overload the sensory system and make us behave out of the ordinary.

As a child, however, it took me some time to have the awareness that a mild scratchy throat would develop into a major sore throat if I didn't do anything about it. So it took me a long time to actually tell others that I was starting to feel bad.

It's important, as a parent of an Autie, to watch out for behaviours that may be out of the ordinary and then investigate to see if there's an underlying pain or sickness starting.

If a person is "acting up" or just doesn't seem like themselves, check for bumps and bruises, check their temperature, make sure their teeth are healthy, look for patches of itchy or scaly skin, look for bug bites, and look in ears and throat for signs of infection. If you are able to ask about stomach pains and bowel movements, try that as well. Sometimes after you bring it up, we may become more aware of it and be able to communicate specifics. But always investigate first.

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