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Autistic Children May Be Significantly More Likely to Contemplate, Attempt Suicide

Update Date: Mar 13, 2013 01:58 PM EDT

A recent study conducted by researchers from the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine has found that children with autism spectrum disorder are significantly more likely to consider and to attempt suicide. The study was the first time that researchers had conducted a large-scale study that looked at age and IQ and took parents' responses into account to determine suicide attempts and idealization.

Researchers conducted the study by analyzing data from 791 children with autism spectrum disorder, 186 neurotypical children and 35 children who did not have autism but who did suffer from depression. Researchers examined the role that various factors might play, including achievement and cognitive ability. Most important to their study, they found, were four demographic variables: being black or Hispanic, being 10 years old or older, being male and socioeconomic status.

Researchers found that parents of children with autism were 28 times more likely to report that their child idealized suicide or had attempted it, compared to neurotypical children. On the other hand, children with autism were three times less likely to report a suicide attempt or idealization as children who suffered from depression.

The frequency of suicide ideation and attempts was not affected by IQ, so both high- and low-functioning children had the same amount of risk. The single strongest factor was depression, as 77 percent of children who had autism and depression idealized suicide or made an attempt. On the other hand, 100 percent of autistic children who were not impulsive, 97 percent who did not have mood dysregulation, 95 percent who were not depressed and 93 percent who did not have behavior problems idealized suicide.

Meanwhile, boys with autism were twice as likely to contemplate suicide than girls with autism were, though both genders attempted suicide about the same amount. Children with professional parents were 10 percent likely to contemplate suicide; that number jumped to 16 percent for children whose parents were in other professions. Black and Hispanic children had a 33 percent and 24 percent likelihood, respectively, of contemplating or attempting suicide, while only 13 percent of whites and 0 percent of Asians reported the same. Children aged 10 or older were three times more likely than younger children to contemplate or attempt suicide.

According to researchers, 71 percent of children with all four of those factors contemplated or attempted suicide. The overwhelming majority of children with autism did not idealize or attempt suicide; in fact, 94 percent of children without the four aforementioned risk factors reported otherwise.

The study was published in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

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