Two studies were recently published showing that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a shorter life span than the general population. A 2017 American study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the average lifespan for individuals with ASD was 36.2 years. A Swedish study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry showed that individuals with ASD who had an intellectual disability had a life expectancy of 39.5 years compared to 70 years for the general population. Individuals with ASD who did not have an intellectual disability had an average lifespan of 58 years.
Causes of Earlier Death
The American study found that a significant number of individuals with ASD died as the result of an injury. Suffocation was found to be the leading cause, followed by asphyxiation and drowning. A child with ASD was 160 times more likely to die from drowning compared to other children. This may be because children with ASD are more likely to wander away from caregivers, especially towards the water, when faced with anxiety.
According to the Swedish study heart disease, seizures, and suicide were the three main causes of death in those with ASD. People with ASD are more likely to suffer from epilepsy than the general population. Frequent and intense seizures that are poorly controlled by medication can be fatal. Congenital heart disease genes are also linked to ASD. In addition, individuals with mild to moderate ASD also suffer from depression at a higher than average rate which can lead to increased suicidal behavior.
What Can Be Done
Families and caretakers of those with ASD can take steps to help prevent early death. Parents can make sure that their children with ASD take swimming lessons and learn water safety to decrease the incidence of drowning. Closely monitoring children with ASD to prevent drowning and other injuries is also important. People with ASD and epilepsy should ensure that they are properly treated and medicated to prevent and control seizures. They should also be tested and treated for any heart disease. Early diagnosis and treatment of depression and other mental illness in individuals with ASD is also an essential part of preventing early death.
If you or a loved one with a mental disability has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental illnesses and intellectual and developmental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.