Why identifying suicide risk among people with autism is a challenge

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depressed college students with autism
Image credit: Bergen Alliance Counseling Services

Studies over the past few years hint that suicidal ideation is more common in people with autism than in the general population, but the estimates vary so widely that some experts say they are meaningless. Still, there is some evidence that autistic people are especially vulnerable to suicide: One 2015 study that mined Sweden’s large National Patient Registry found that they are 10 times as likely to die by suicide as are those in the general population.

Clinicians may wrongly assume that people on the spectrum don’t have complicated emotions, or may discount their outbursts, says Paul Lipkin, director of the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

All of that is beginning to change. Some teams are adapting tools to spot autistic people who are at risk of suicide and gain a sense of the scale of this problem. Many typical signs of suicidality — changes in sleep, appetite and social relationships — involve areas that are already challenging for these individuals. So “one can’t rely on these changes in this population,” Lipkin says. Instead, the researchers are looking at the interplay of known risk factors, such as depression, anxiety and bullying, in autistic people. And they are identifying risks unique to this population, such as social challenges, communication difficulties and a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Related article:  Viewpoint: Autism research needs a better mouse

Read full, original post: The hidden danger of suicide in autism

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