A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

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

Spring, 2023 | Number 2, Volume 36

Rates of undiagnosed ASD may be high in individuals who commit suicide

A significant percentage of individuals who commit suicide may have undiagnosed autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or high levels of autistic traits, according to a study from Britain. 

Sarah Cassidy and colleagues reviewed the coroners’ inquest records of 372 people who committed suicide. The researchers found that nearly 11% of those who committed suicide exhibited evidence of elevated autistic traits, indicating likely undiagnosed autism. This rate is 11 times higher than the rate of autism in the United Kingdom. Moreover, the researchers say, “Given that coroners’ records do not systematically gather evidence of autism and autistic traits, this is likely an underestimate of the true rate.” Interviewing a subset of 29 families of victims, the researchers identified indications of autism in more than 40% of the victims (although none of these individuals met the threshold for autism). 

Previous research by the same group has shown that up to 66 percent of adults with ASD have thought about taking their own life, and 35 percent have attempted suicide. In addition, while approximately one percent of people in the U.K. have ASD, up to 15 percent of people hospitalized after attempting suicide have an ASD diagnosis. 

Noting that individuals with ASD die an average of 20 years earlier than people without ASD, and that suicide is one of the leading causes of premature death in this population, coauthor Simon Baron-Cohen comments, “Suicide rates are unacceptably high in autistic people and suicide prevention has to be the number one goal to reduce the worrying


Citations

“Autism and autistic traits in those who died by suicide in England,” Sarah Cassidy, , Sheena Au-Yeung, Ashley Robertson, Heather CoggerWard, Gareth Richards, Carrie Allison, Louise Bradley, Rebecca Kenny, Rory O’Connor, David Mosse, Jacqui Rodgers, and Simon Baron-Cohen, British Journal of Psychiatry, February 15, 2022 (free online). Address: Sarah Cassidy, School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, U.K., [email protected]

—and— 

“Study reveals high rate of possible undiagnosed autism in people who died by suicide,” news release, University of Nottingham, February 15, 2022.