A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Spring, 2017 | Number 2, Volume 31

Accidental deaths a major risk in ASD

Individuals with autism are at significantly elevated risk for accidental death, according to a new study. 

Joseph Guan and Guohua Li screened more than 32 million U.S. death certificates, identifying 1,367 individuals with autism who died between 1999 and 2014. The researchers found that deaths in individuals with autism have increased 700 percent in the past 16 years and are three times more likely to be caused by injuries than deaths in the general population. 

The average age at death for individuals with autism was 36 years younger than for the general population (36 years of age, compared to 72). Twenty-eight percent of the deaths of individuals with autism were attributed to accidents. Suffocation, asphyxiation, and drowning were the most common causes, accounting for nearly 80% of injury-related deaths. 

Li notes that children with autism are 160 times as likely to die from drowning as children overall, in part because they are prone to wandering. “Given the exceptionally heightened risk of drowning for children with autism,” he says, “swimming classes should be the intervention of top priority. Once a child is diagnosed with autism, usually between 2 years and 3 years of age, pediatricians and parents should immediately help enroll the child in swimming classes, before any behavioral therapy, speech therapy or occupational therapy. Swimming ability for kids with autism is an imperative survival skill.”


“Injury mortality in individuals with autism,” Joseph Guan and Guohua Li, American Journal of Public Health, March 2017 (online). Address: Guohua Li, Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention, Columbia University Medical Center, 622 W. 168th St., PH5-505, New York, NY 10032, [email protected]


“Individuals with autism at substantially heightened risk for injury death,” news release, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, March 21, 2017