Rate of Suicide 3 Times Higher for Autistic People

signs of autism in newborns
  • An upcoming study has revealed that people who are autistic are three times more likely to suffer from suicide. rate of suicide attempts and suicide than the general population.
  • Females with autism as well individuals with additional mental disorders are most affected.
  • The study exposes the lack of care for autistic individuals, particularly in the area of diagnosis and resources for adults with autism.

Autistic people have greater than three times more suicide and attempts to commit suicide as compared to the rest of society, as per new research.

signs of autism in newborns

The study also revealed that women and girls with autism had significantly higher risks for developing a mental illness, as did those who have other mental health conditions.

“This study conducted in Denmark is a significant step in understanding the risks of suicide among those diagnosed with autism” stated Donna Murray PhD, vice-president for clinical services and director of the Autism Treatment Network (ATN) at Autism Speaks.

The majority of studies on suicidality has focused on small populations, rather than a large-scale dataset.

“This helps us gain a more realistic idea of how prevalent this is for autistic individuals in comparison to the general population and, by examining the relationship between risk factors and other factors, we can pinpoint the things we may be capable of doing to lower the risk of suicide,” Murray said.

Dr. Sarah Mohiuddin, a child and an adolescent physician of Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital who specializes in the treatment of children suffering from Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) she said that this research sheds spotlight on a risk that is not recognized and is a reflection of what she observes in her clinical practice.

“For an extended period of time, it was believed that those with autism would not suffer this degree of illness,” she said. “So it’s great to see research replicate and providing a comprehensive description of the issues that the majority of us who work with the population have seen for a long time in clinic.”

Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),Trusted Source approximately 1 out of 54 children suffer from ASD.

The incidence of ASD has steadily increased over the past few years, but experts believe that it is more due to improved monitoring and diagnosis than an actual increase in amount of children with autism.

Researchers utilized a database across the country to examine data from over 6 million people who were aged 10 or older in Denmark from 1995 until the year 2016.

More than 35,000 patients were diagnosed with ASD. Results were released in JAMA Network Trusted Source OpenTrusted Source.

Autistics have different risks for suicide

Alongside the rates for suicide attempts and suicides, researchers examined the risk for different groups within the autism spectrum.

“The significance of our research is not only in determining the relationship between ASD and suicidal behaviour as well as identifying risk factors, since it will aid clinicians in treating patients who suffer from ASD,” study author Kairi Kolves PhD, from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia she told Healthline.

Women and girls with autism were the most affected, with a 4-fold greater risk of suicide as compared to males.

The females had also a more frequent suicide attempt than males with autism. “Higher chance of suicide attempt among females isn’t unusual however, the extent of this was quite surprising,” Kolves said.

signs of autism in newborns

One reason that could be behind this risk is the fact that females with autism are usually recognized and treated more late as compared to males.

“There’s plenty of ongoing research into what the reason is,” Mohiuddin said. “It could be because their symptoms are more distinct when they are younger. 

They’re more social, and possess greater nonverbal communication skills that are in-tact, which could make it difficult for the clinicians to recognize their symptoms.”

Furthermore women tend to suffer from anxiety and affective disorders like depression, that as the study has demonstrated are significant risk factors for suicide among autistic people.

The study found that over 90% of autistic patients who attempted suicide or committed suicide also had a co-occurring mental illness.

Another interesting observation is that, in contrast to people in general, the risk of suicide does not decrease as people age, especially for autistic individuals.

This is logical, experts claim, taking into consideration the lack of support for autistic individuals when they leave high school and start their journey into early adulthood.

“Reaching social milestones is more difficult for those with ASD group,” Mohiuddin said. “I have numerous patients who express their feelings of anxiety watching their siblings and friends get married or start a new job, which is very challenging for those with ASD.”

Mohiuddin said that autistic individuals can succeed in a K-12 school environment with help from the schools and parents.

However, it’s possible to make things more difficult once they’re alone and have to be able to navigate situations where they have to deal with more delicate social settings that are more ambiguous in terms of social norms.

This could also cause feeling of sorrow and despair that they’re not getting these opportunities.

“And you are able to see how this could be a cause to suicidality,” Mohiuddin said.

Researchers also discovered that autistic individuals with high functioning have a higher chance of suicide because they’re more likely to receive less help.

Care gaps that require attention

Experts have said that the study’s findings indicate the need to close the gaps in treatment for people with autism, particularly in the area of diagnosis and resources for adults with autism.

“The higher rates of females suffering from ASD indicate the need for improved the diagnostic tools that can prevent delays in the treatment needed,” Kolves said. “There is a need to develop social skills for children with ASD and early intervention could reduce the likelihood of suicidal behaviour later on in the life.”

Kolves added that it’s crucial to increase the number of assistance and services offered to autistic adults, particularly those who suffer from psychiatric comorbidity given the high likelihood of suicide attempts over the course of their lives.

Mohiuddin has also called for further training for frontline workers.

“Given the growing prevalence of ASD all over the world doctors, healthcare professionals as well as schools and colleges must be more trained in the diagnosis and treatment of ASD,” she said. “As of right now , it’s not a requirement of the training that people receive, but it would seem like it ought to be.”

Take note of warning signals

Parents and family members are also able to play a significant role in recognizing the warning indicators of suicide in autistic individuals.

“Signs and signs of anxiety and depression may be different for people with autism due to difficulties in communicating particularly for those with limited speech,” Murray said.

“Often parents and their family members will have to search for clues such as an inability to eat fatigue, low energy, or changes in sleeping routines or the social interaction that is common for their age,” she said.

Mohiuddin warned people to look out for more statements that express hopelessness such as “I’m ever going to get something” or “nothing ever works out for me.” withdrawing from social life, as well as the inability to do things that they used to enjoy.

“More urgent indicators are declaring that’my existence isn’t worthwhile’, or “I’d rather be dead’, and taking any preparations like giving away items that they value or appearing as if they’re making a final goodbye.” She said.

It’s equally important that loved ones know that they don’t have to be scared to inquire about suicide.

“People are often misinformed that if they inquire about something, it’s going to be true or force someone to take action,” Mohiuddin said. “But most of the time people say that they are content that a family member or loved one realized the severity of what they were feeling and was in a position to inquire questions about the issue.”

If you’re concerned about your family member’s mental health, discuss with them about seeking assistance from a mental health professional or their primary doctor.

If you suspect someone is at risk of suicide or self-harm, contact 911 or your nearest emergency room.

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