Importance: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is one of the most prevalent neurodevelopmental disorders and is characterized by compromised social interactions, reduced verbal communication, stereotyped repetitive behaviors, restricted interests, and sensory abnormalities. Yet absent from the knowledge base is information about sensory abnormalities related to pain experiences. Exploring the pain experiences of people with ASD may provide occupational therapy practitioners with a baseline to determine areas of need and effective interventions.
Objective: To conduct a systematic review of the literature to summarize current evidence from case–control studies comparing sensory abnormalities with regard to pain experiences of people diagnosed and not diagnosed with ASD.
Data Sources: A systematic literature search of the CINAHL, Cochrane, MEDLINE (PubMed), OTseeker, and Web of Science databases, using MeSH terms and broad keywords.
Study Selection and Data Collection: A search was performed according to Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. The Newcastle–Ottawa Scale was used to evaluate the risk of bias of the included studies.
Findings: A total of 27 case–control studies involving 865 people with ASD and 864 control participants were included. Several methods were used to explore pain experiences, such as threshold detection or pain threshold.
Conclusion and Relevance: The results indicate that people with ASD may have an abnormal sensory experience with regard to pain sensitivity. Occupational therapy practitioners should develop an intervention to focus on pain.
What This Article Adds: This study adds to the body of literature indicating that people with ASD have sensory abnormalities with regard to pain experiences. Results highlight the need for occupational therapy interventions to focus on pain experiences.