A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

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

Summer, 2019 | Number 3, Volume 33

Researchers in Italy explore links between ASD traits, excessive internet use, and suicide in college-age students

Problematic internet use is rapidly increasing, especially among young people, and research indicates that individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are particularly vulnerable. In addition, individuals with either ASD or obsessive internet use are at increased risk for suicide. These findings recently led researchers in Italy to investigate the links between problematic internet use, ASD traits, and suicide in the general population.

Liliana Dell’Ossa and colleagues collected information from 178 university students. Participants completed three self-report questionnaires: the Adult Autism Subthreshold Spectrum (AdAS Spectrum), the Autism Quotient (AQ), and selected questions from the Trauma and Loss Spectrum-Self Report (TALS-SR). The AdAS Spectrum includes a question about obsessive internet use.

The researchers report that more than 27% of participants reported problematic internet use, and that this subgroup had higher scores in all domains of the AdAS Spectrum and AQ compared to other participants. For students who admitted to an obsession with the internet, a significant correlation existed between suicide risk and the non-verbal communication domain of the AdAS Spectrum and the social skills domain of the AQ.

The researchers say, “The present study corroborates previous studies showing higher autistic traits in individuals with problematic internet use. These data point out the relationship between autistic features and pathological levels of internet use in a nonclinical population. Consequently, putative problematic internet use should be evaluated by clinicians during the assessment of individuals with high autistic traits.”

“Moreover,” they add, “investigating ASD symptomatology may be useful when investigating patients with putative problematic internet use. Furthermore, this is the first study to suggest how an impairment in social skills and in non-verbal communication, typical of autism symptomatology, may be correlated to suicide risk in individuals with putative problematic internet use. Autism spectrum features like difficulties in social relationships and isolation might be a warning sign of increased suicide risk in subjects spending most of their time on the internet.”


“Problematic internet use in university students attending three superior graduate schools in Italy: Is autism spectrum related to suicide risk?”, Liliana Dell’Osso, Carlo Antonio Bertelloni, Marco Di Paolo, Maria Teresa Avella, Barbara Carpita, Federica Gori, Maurizio Pompili, and Claudia Carmassi, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, March 2019 (free online). Addresss: Carlo Antonio Bertelloni, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Pisa, 56126 Pisa, Italy, [email protected].