A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

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

Winter, 2019 | Number 1, Volume 33

Suicide rate rising in ASD; increase stems from greater number of female suicides

A new study suggests that suicide rates are climbing among people with ASD and that this is due to an increased rate of suicide among females. 

In the study, Anne Kirby and colleagues collected information from two Utah databases: the Utah Registry of Autism and Developmental Disabilities and suicide surveillance data collected by the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner. The information from these databases was linked to the Utah Population Database, a state-wide database containing demographic information, vital records, and medical and genealogical data.

The researchers analyzed data collected between 1998 and 2017. During this time, 7 females and 42 males with autism died by suicide in Utah. When Kirby and her team broke their data down into five-year periods, they found that:

• Only two people with ASD, both male, committed suicide between 1998 and 2002.

• Five males and no females with ASD committed suicide between 2003 and 2007.

• Fourteen males and no females with ASD committed suicide between 2008 and 2012.

• Twenty-one males and 7 females committed suicide between 2013 and 2017.

For the first three of these periods, the relative risk of suicide was similar for individuals with and without ASD. However, during the most recent period, the cumulative incidence of suicide was significantly higher for individuals with ASD than for their peers (.17% versus .11%). The researchers note that women with autism accounted for this change.

“There has been an unfortunate assumption that people with autism are in their own world and are not affected by social influences commonly associated with suicidality,” Kirby says. “There is now growing realization among clinicians and families that suicidal thoughts and behaviors can be a real concern for autistic individuals.” The researchers emphasize, however, that the risk of suicide is small for individuals with ASD.


“A 20-year study of suicide death in a statewide autism population,” Anne V. Kirby, Amanda V. Bakian, Yue Zhang, Deborah A. Bilder, Brooks R. Keeshin, and Hilary Coon, Autism Research, January 21, 2019 (epub prior to print publication). Address: Anne V. Kirby, Department of Occupational and Recreational Therapies, University of

Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, [email protected] 


“Suicide risk in people with autism,” Science Daily, January 23, 2019.