I have a question: Does anyone know of a link between Migraines and Autism? Does anyone know of a child with Autism who also has Migraines? I ask because my nephew has Autism, and shows signs of Migraines. He is 7. He exhibits some of the same signs I showed when I had my first one. He tries to put pressure on his head to alleviate what is going on inside, he seeks out quiet and dark, he likes it to be really cold when he is having what I think of as a migraine attack. But my family thinks I am crazy and won’t listen to me. They know I have them, and they are very understanding of it, but they think I am off base with this. I don’t think I am. Am I right? Am I wrong? I want something more than just “I told you this is what I think” to take to them.
rhondagrensberg-smith – I wish there were an easy answer for you. Let me try and give you what I’ve got…
Autism is a neurological condition that causes the nervous system to be super sensitive to everything. Many doctors think that the filter that exists in the rest of us isn’t functioning properly in a child with autism so literally everything gets through to them and they are overwhelmed.
Migraine is a neurologic condition that doctors currently think results from an overly active and sensitive central nervous system. Dr Marcus begins her post here https://migraine.com/blog/whats-new-in-migraine-research/ discussing this topic. In Migraine the central nervous system is overwhelmed by a physiological change (we call these triggers) and in those with the genetic capacity for Migraine a Migraine attack results.
While it is possible for a child with autism to also have Migraine, you can see that it might be quite hard to tell the difference between the effects of autism and the effects of Migraine.
A child with Migraine can be complicated to work with for even the best of headache specialists, but add autism into the mix and the case can seem daunting.
Typically, autistic kids like consistency. When consistency is gone, they can have a neurologic reaction that can be quite severe as their brains try to deal with the unexpected. Migraine will usually result in an inconsistent behavior.
I guess my question to you would begin with:
When you think he is having a Migraine, is he exhibiting behavior that is inconsistent with his usual behavior?
My relative with autism does not deal well with cold normally. If he started to seek out a cold place or wanting something cold touching him I would be concerned. Although many autistic kids thrive with body pressure which calms them, my relative also would not ever want pressure on his head, although he does hold his ears when sounds become overwhelming.
As you know, a Migraine attack is often extremely painful. Some autistic kids don’t react at all to pain, while others overreact to it. Does he seem to be in pain?
If there is a history of Migraine in the family, it is prudent to rule out any inconsistencies that resemble Migraine.
If you know anything about Temple Grandin (herself a brilliant autist), you are aware that she likens autism to having an animal-like brain. As someone who has worked both in a veterinary setting as well as a training setting, we always are careful to assume that unusual behavior is coming from pain first. Rule out pain, then work to figure out what else it might be.
In my limited experience, inconsistencies in an autistic child’s behavior should be ruled out as being caused by pain first. That is the only humane choice.
Can you get him to see a headache specialist who is also a pediatric neurologist? That would be my best suggestion to you.
Kudos and hugs to you for having your nephew’s best interests at heart. Although it is normal for humans to use their own experience and project it on others, this is a part of our psychological makeup for a reason. It protects us and our loved ones, and it teaches us important life lessons. In our house we say “Plan for the worst, hope for the best.”
My 12 year old son has autism and we think he has migraines as well. When his behaviors are at their worst or starting to head that way I give him magnesium to calm him. If that doesn’t work 30 mins later I give him GABA. This usually calms him down unless he’s in pain. If none of the above works I will give him some tylenol after another half hour. I have migraines that I have a prescription pain pill for that I rarely use because I can’t be that groggy when dealing with him or the other children. We are in the process of getting him a CT scan to see what might be there. When he’s frustrated/in pain (can’t tell most times) he will punch himself in the forehead or side of the head so we put a helmet on him as soon as he starts. He’s also been working with ABA therapists who are having a hard time figuring out what is triggering his meltdowns when they come because they’re different all the time. No particular trigger can be found. I do notice that he sometimes does this weird eye roll when he’s having a hard time. I never thought it might be what I call the “flashes” for a migraine until I had that doozy of one last night. It took me a while to figure out it was a migraine flash and I found that I was trying to rid myself of the weird lightning like spot that was making me blind by rolling my eyes a lot. I’ll post on here when we get the results of his tests and see his neurologist again.
My daughter, son, and I all have Asperger’s and migraine. Sometimes it can be difficult for me to determine if my phonophobia is coming from a migraine prodrome or is an ASD symptom as I am almost always hypersensitive to sound (although I can’t always tell when my own volume is too loud). Both conditions run in my family so it was worth getting them checked out.
I am also a Family Therapist with a speciality in ASD. I can tell you that I’ve had many spectrum clients of all ages who struggle with migraine. It’s really not that unusual. We always recognized a “times 10” rule at the agency I worked for. ASD pain perception can either be 10 times greater than average or 10 times less. It really varies in each person.
Has anyone asked him what he is feeling? If he is non-verbal, he may be able to act out or draw a representation of his symptoms. It is a mistake to think that all unusual symptoms are a result of autism. Autism doesn’t make anyone immune to other health conditions. Please encourage his parents to get this checked out.