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Child Psychiatrist /Adult Psychiatrist

Children with Autism Have an Earlier Onset of Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors

Keypoint: Almost one-third of children and adolescents with ASD who report suicidal thoughts are aged 8 years and younger.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience suicidality at a younger age than their peers without ASD, according to study results published in JAMA Pediatrics. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors were present among children with ASD who were aged 8 and younger.

autism spectrum disorder

Individuals with ASD are at a higher risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Due to the increasing prevalence of suicidality among children and adolescents in the United States more generally in recent years, investigators conducted a study to determine the age at which such suicidal thoughts and behaviors are first experienced among children with ASD.

The investigators used data from the Mental Health and Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire, a caregiver-completed online survey that was distributed by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN). The IAN is a web-based registry of approximately 28,500 children and adults with professionally-verified diagnoses of ASD. The investigators collected responses from the questionnaire from May to October 2017 and included responses from caregivers of children and adolescents with ASD aged 8 to 17 years.

The current dataset comprised responses from 968 caregivers of children and adolescents diagnosed with ASD. On average, the children and adolescents were 13.4 years of age, 81.0% were boys, 19.0% were girls, and 84.8% were White. Additionally, 54.8% of the participants were on medications for emotional, behavioral, or mood-related issues.

According to caregiver responses to the Mental Health and Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire, 40.5% (n=392) of children and adolescents with ASD had expressed a wish to die, 19.3% (n=187) had wanted to end their own life, and 7.4% (n=72) had formulated a suicide plan.

Among those who reported suicidality, early onset of suicidal thoughts and behaviors (at 8 years of age or younger) was noted among 36.2% of the children and adolescents expressing a wish to die, 35.3% of those who wanted to end their life, and 18.1% of respondents who had a suicide plan. Additionally, there was a single instance of a suicide attempt in a child aged 8 years or younger.

The investigators noted that these results suggest a “possible earlier onset of [suicidal thoughts and behaviors] than what has been observed in typically developing youths.” Study authors concluded, “The unexpectedly high frequency of [suicidal thoughts and behaviors] among children with ASD who were 8 years or younger is particularly disturbing given the lack of validated suicide risk screening tools and interventions for this age group.”

Study limitations include the reliance on parent reports that may underestimate suicidal thoughts and behaviors among offspring and the use of a survey that was not nationally representative of the population.

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor

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