Healthy Living

Autism: Getting a Handle on Suicide

Autism: Getting a Handle on Suicide

There are many different symptoms associated with autism that can present a wide variety of challenges that patients, loved ones, and caregivers must face. While autism may be the root of a variety of symptoms and behaviors in patients, it’s not typically described as fatal.

However, new research is prompting caregivers to rethink treatment for autism and to take it more seriously as studies are suggesting that autistic traits are significant indicators of an individual’s likelihood to commit suicide.

Link between suicide and autism

While some researchers speculate that autism is developed at the genetic level, and while some emerging methods for autism testing rely on the cellular level to indicate whether or not a patient has the condition, treatment at this point is largely limited to behavior. The earlier a treatment provider can begin working with an autistic individual, the better chance that individual will have of developing coping skills that can help him or her adapt to a world that is sometimes not very friendly to non-neurotypical individuals. Given the emphasis on treating autism at the behavioral level, it’s perhaps not so surprising that autistic traits are significantly linked to suicidal thoughts and idealizations.

Several studies in  recent years, such as one published in Autism Research by a team from Coventry University, clearly illustrate the relationship between autism and suicidal thoughts. The study from Coventry University was pretty straightforward; 163 participants answered questions on a survey that quantified the extent to which they experienced depression, autistic traits, and suicidal thoughts. The results of the study clearly indicated that the more autistic traits an individual exhibited, the more likely he or she was to experience suicidal thoughts.

In addition to linking autistic traits to suicidal thoughts and idealization, research also indicates that autistic traits are a more important predictor of suicidal thoughts than depression in individuals experiencing psychosis. In a study that surveyed the habits and behaviors of individuals going through a psychotic episode, whether or not they also had autistic traits actually indicated the likelihood of experiencing suicidal thoughts more than depression did. Medical professionals noted that individuals experiencing some kind of psychosis are already at an elevated risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts, so the addition of autistic traits should be taken extremely seriously.

Significance of traits associated with autism

One feature of the recent research surrounding the relationship between autism and suicide is that these studies measure suicidal thoughts or idealization relative to autistic traits. Naturally, individuals on the autism spectrum experience some assortment of these traits. These traits could include social and communication difficulties, focus on detail, and a narrow or obsessive set of interests. While these traits are not exclusively experienced by people with autism; because they are common for many individuals on the spectrum to experience, they’re important to take note of.

Read on to learn more about the significance of traits associated with autism, and how they relate to suicide risk.