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Autism is Linked to Self-harm and Suicide

— March 9, 2022

Those living with ASD are more likely to self-harm, study shows.

A recent study from Columbia University found that suicide and self-harm rates are almost four times more likely to occur in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than in the general population.  ASD is a condition that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others.  It often includes repetitive patterns of behavior and is considered a spectrum disorder because the symptoms range in presentation and severity.  The study published in JAMA Network Open is one of only a handful of research on ASD and self-harm and suicide.

Typically, ASD develops in childhood and children show symptoms within the first year of life.  Others, however, will display signs shortly after that first year, as the brain continues to develop.  Those living with the disorder often have trouble maintaining meaningful relationships and employment or even living independently.

As one JAMA study reported, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by persistent deficits in social communication and interaction along with restricted, repetitive behaviors. In 2017, an estimated 5,437,988 adults (2.21%) had been diagnosed with ASD.  Prevalence estimates in the US pediatric population have increased over the past several decades partly because of improved awareness, changes in documentation, and identification of milder cases without intellectual disability.”

Autism is Linked to Self-harm and Suicide
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Study investigator Guohua Li, DrPH, MD, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York City, said, “Previously there was relatively little information about adults with autism in general and on injury risk among adults with autism specifically.  How to continue to provide social support and health care services to adults with autism presents a real challenge to society and is a public health issue.”

The ASD rate among children in the United States has reached an all-time high.  Because of the complexity of symptoms, adults who are living with the disorder are often misunderstood and/or forgotten or misdiagnosed.  They feel unheard and helpless.

The data presented in the JAMA study shows those adults with ASD face a “services cliff as they transition to adulthood and fall into a landscape with a serious lack of services, support, and clinicians trained to treat adults with ASD.”  In other words, they are often left without the proper treatment to ensure they will not harm themselves.

Before 2020, there was no data on the number of U.S. adults with autism.  That same year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its first report on adult autism prevalence, shedding light on just how many individuals are suffering from it.  The numbers reported were not only concerning but could be considered a public health issue.

The agency reports that it is “committed to continuing to provide essential data on ASD, search for factors that put children at risk for ASD and possible causes and develop resources that help identify children with ASD as early as possible.”  It offers a range of resources that can be used for diagnosis and support including those concentrated on identifying, diagnosing and managing the disorder.


Alarming Rates of Self-Harm in Adults With Autism Expose a Broken System

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Risk of Self-harm in Children and Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

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