Neuroqueering and the Autistic expression of pain
Neuroqueering is a liberational practice. It allows the person to express themselves authentically. But what if authentic expression of Self could cost you your life? What if the people observing you are basing their judgements on a majority group that does not express themselves in the same way that you do?
This is why we need to talk about Autistic people and pain. When we express pain, both emotional and physical, we often embody thar experience differently to the neuromajority. Autistic people have a complicated relationship with pain, and for the sake of simplicity, I would like to consider physical pain.
In hospitals around the world, pain is often recorded using numerical and visual scales. These rely on a person being able to articulate the way they are feeling on a numerical scale and be witnessed to display pain visually in a way that marries up to that figure. One might think it’s a simple system, but if you are Autistic it presents a significant challenge.
Autistic people often experience alexithymia. We struggle to put internal sensations into words. We often can’t articulate what we’re feeling to ourselves, let alone a doctor on a numerical scale. At the same time as this, we often do not express pain in the same way as those of a predominant neurotype.
How many of us find paper cuts unbearable while walking around daily experiencing delirium inducing chronic pain? An example from my own life is the 10 hours I spent walking around with a collapsed lung. I was in agony, but I didn’t respond “typically” to that pain, nor could I articulate its severity in a way that made sense to others.
Enter in the era of the neuroqueer. We are witnessing the birth of a post-normal society. This is a world where Autistic and otherwise Neurodivergent people feel more and more like they can embody their experience in a way that means something to them, and not for the benefit of others. This means that modern medicine needs to also evolve.
Unless healthcare professionals familiarise themselves with the Autistic expression of pain, many of us will be failed (or even killed) by a lack of clinical competency. That is what it is. There is no clinical competency that should not, or does not include an understanding or minority groups experiences of pain.
Neuroqueering is a wonderful thing, but it really does shine a light on the failings that befall Autistic people.
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