An Exploratory Analysis of Predictors of Youth Suicide-Related Behaviors in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Implications for Prevention Science
What is the research about?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with significant mental health concerns. Despite healthcare practitioners’ improved ability to address mental health concerns for individuals with ASD, there is still a limited understanding of suicidality, thoughts of or intention to die by suicide, in ASD. Prior research shows that individuals diagnosed with ASD are at a heightened risk of suicidality due to the main characteristics of autism and the common challenges experienced. Recent evidence has shown high rates of suicidality in children with autism. Despite the connection between ASD and risk for suicidality, little research has been done to understand suicidality in ASD, and even fewer studies have looked at youth suicidality in ASD. Therefore, this study looked to advance the understanding of how key factors may increase the risk of talking about suicide and deliberately harming oneself or attempting suicide in youth with autism.
What did the researchers do?
The researchers looked at risk factors for suicidality across five domains in 481 children with a primary diagnosis of ASD recruited through the Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Disorders (POND) Network. This was the first study to examine core autism symptom domains and a diverse range of medical concerns. Multiple risk factors from five domains were analyzed based on how they relate to parent report of suicide-related behaviours in the research participants. The following domains and risk factors were analyzed in this study:
- demographic factors (sex, age, race, family annual income, parental education),
- core autism symptoms/characteristics (social interaction skills, communication skills, daily living skills, among others),
- brain-based skills and age-appropriate behaviours that people with and without learning disabilities need to live independently and to function well in daily life,
- additional mental illness co-occurring with an ASD diagnosis, (anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit disorder, and others), and
- additional medical problems co-occurring with an ASD diagnosis (history of seizure, head injury, constipation, vision difficulties, motor skills, additional medication, among others).
What did the researchers find?
The researchers found lower parent education, higher verbal IQ, comorbid mental health (depression and conduct problems), and being overweight (BMI above 25) increased the risk of talking about suicide for youth with autism. The researchers also found that older age, poor social skills, comorbid mental health factors, and being overweight increased the risk of deliberately harming oneself or attempting suicide in youth with autism. The researchers stated that based on their findings; there is a need for a holistic assessment of suicidality in youth with ASD.
Take home message.
The researchers in this study identified risk factors for suicidality in youth with ASD. Being able to identify risk factors earlier in development can aid in better risk assessment as well as targeted development of prevention and intervention programs in childhood. Early prevention can potentially reduce the risk of suicide in adulthood.
The abstract of the article can be accessed at this link: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-019-04320-6?wt_mc=Internal.Event.1.SEM.ArticleAuthorOnlineFirst&utm_source=ArticleAuthorOnlineFirst&utm_medium=email&utm_content=AA_en_06082018&ArticleAuthorOnlineFirst_20191210
McDonnell, C. G., DeLucia, E. A., Hayden, E. P., Anagnostou, E., Nicolson, R., Kelley, E., … & Stevenson, R. A. (2019). An Exploratory Analysis of Predictors of Youth Suicide-Related Behaviors in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Implications for Prevention Science. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1-14.