A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

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

Fall, 2019 | Number 4, Volume 33

ASD. autistic traits raise risk for suicidality

A new study reports that people with either autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or autism traits have an elevated risk of mood disorders as well as suicidality. 

In the study, Liliana Dell’Osso and colleagues collected data from 262 adults. Of the participants, 34 had high-functioning autism, 68 had ASD traits but did not fulfill criteria for ASD, and 160 were neurotypical controls. 

The researchers assessed all participants using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-5 (SCID-5), which screens individuals for mental disorders. In addition, they filled out the Mood Spectrum Self Report (MOODS-SR) and the Adult Autism Subthreshold Spectrum (AdAS Spectrum). 

The researchers found that individuals with ASD and autistic traits had similar scores on suicidality, and these scores were significantly higher than those for controls. They say, “This finding adds to previous literature pointing out the high rate of ASD among suicide attempters, as well as the high rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among patients with ASD across different age ranges.” In addition, they say, the high scores on suicidality for individuals with autistic traits highlight the importance of detecting not only full-blown ASD but also subthreshold forms. 

The researchers also found that individuals with ASD had significantly higher (worse) total scores on the MOOD-SR, as well as higher scores on the depressive component of this test, than individuals with autistic traits or controls. While the scores of individuals with autistic traits were lower than those of individuals with ASD, they were higher than scores for the control group. 

On the SCID-5, individuals with autistic traits had a higher rate of comorbidity with other mental disorders than participants with ASD. The researchers say this may be due to the greater difficulty in diagnosing comorbid mental health conditions in people with ASD. 

Overall, the researchers say, “[Our] study suggests that not only clinical ASD but also autistic traits [are] associated with a broad variety of psychopathological dimensions that include suicidal ideation and behaviors and the whole spectrum of mood manifestations, besides a number of comorbid mental disorders.”


“Mood symptoms and suicidality across the autism spectrum,” L. Dell’Osso, B. Carpita, D. Muti, V. Morelli, G. Salarpi, A. Salerni, J. Scotto, G. Massimetti, C. Gesi, M. Ballerio, M.S. Signorelli, M. Luciano, P. Politi, E. Aguglia, C. Carmassi, and M. Maj, Comprehensive Psychiatry, Vol. 91, 2019, 34-38 (free online). Address: Barbara Carpita, [email protected].