Asperger’s, Childhood & Chickenpox

What happens when an Aspie child contracts chickenpox?

Let me give you a hint.

People with Aspergers are known to have problems with sensory overload. This means they can be overly sensitive to, touch, tastes, textures in the mouth, movements, loud sounds or lights. They receive too much information or stimuli from their environment which can explain some of their typical behaviors such as keeping their ears covered in a crowd, their clumsiness or their unwillingness to go to social gatherings. Their poor communication skills and social withdrawal may also be caused by the input of too much sensory information in the brain. –

What is an episode of discomfort and irritation for some children escalates into something much more for children with Asperger’s Syndrome. Extraordinarily itchy skin, distasteful medicines and a total disruption of established routines leads quickly to sensory overload.

I’m writing this from personal experience having witnessed my 7 year old son’s rapid regression to full screaming tantrums for hours on end, complete with rocking and hands held over his ears, and a total loss of ability to communicate. We haven’t seen this behaviour since he was a toddler and before we tried to help him develop coping strategies.

For the first several days into his infection, we had no idea he had chickenpox. He complained of a sore-throat and a stuffy nose, but nothing distinguished this from any other childhood cold. When the bumps came they were very few, very tiny, and didn’t itch. In retrospect I’m not sure if this was a blessing or a curse. Given his sensitive skin, we monitored it but thought perhaps he was playing in the grass and was having an allergic reaction. The following day there were a few more, again no discomfort, but by day three he had about 20 tiny bumps on his neck, arms, torso and legs.

This was not a grass allergy.

The doctor quickly confirmed our suspicions and by that night the tiny bumps had quadrupled in size and become angry red bumps that looked very much like chickenpox.

Calamine lotion when dried only irritated the un-poxed skin so that the skin all over his body seemed to have turned against him. Anti-histamines may have taken the edge off the irritation, but at this stage it was so far advanced that it was just too much for him to stand.

Researching the web and calling on anyone remotely affected by Asperger’s Syndrome turned up only suggestions we’d already tried, or ones that didn’t work. And the little patience he was gamely trying to maintain was quickly slipping away as he realized his parents were powerless to take this frustration away.

Partly by accident, and then confirmed by an Occupational Therapist who works with Autistic kids, we stumbled upon the only thing that helped ease his frustration enough for him to get at least 30 mins of sleep to let his body try to cope.

I pressed a thick, soft, fleece blanket (folded) against his back trying to relieve some of the pain, and he instantly calmed down and stopped screaming. Wrapped in the blanket, and with a pillow between us, I hugged him tightly and rocked him until he was absolutely still. Eyelids dropping, he finally got a little rest, although no sleep, yet…

When the Therapist suggested reducing the glaring light in his room, and introducing calming music while performing deep pressure stimulation (if you’ve ever been devastated by bad news felt the relief a good firm hug brings, you’ve lived the concept), I could have slapped myself. Of course! That’s why the blanket worked, despite my fear that touching his skin would make it worse.

Today he finally got a little sleep. Wrapped in the blanket, I put a pillow on his back and put some pressure on it. He asked me to adjust where the pillow was on his back, and shortly afterward fell into a short but deep sleep.

I cannot express my happiness at having my boy back smiling at me and eating once he woke from his nap.

The itching hasn’t gone away, but it doesn’t matter if we need to repeat this every hour, at least we’ve found something that we know is effective.

I’m sharing this story with you in the hopes that this will help some other parent trying to deal with a similar situation.

Every child and every situation is different, and there is no guarantee that this will work for someone else.

But in a sea of nothing… trying something that may not work but can’t hurt to try is certainly better than trying nothing…

(Happy 4th of July!)