People With Autism Tend to Die Younger

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on March 18, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

March 18, 2016 -- People with autism pass away younger on average than those without the condition, according to recent research.

The Swedish study found that adults with autism and a learning disability are 40 times more likely to die early due to a neurological condition than those in the general population.

Adults with autism, but without an additional learning disability, were nine times more likely to die from suicide than those without autism.

The Swedish study, carried out by the Karolinska Institute, was based on the health records of 27,122 autistic adults diagnosed between 1987 and 2009, compared with more than 2 million people in the general population.

The researchers found that people with autism died 16 years earlier at an average age of 54. Adults with the condition and learning disabilities died more than 30 years earlier than people without autism at an average age of 39.5 years. Adults with autism and without a learning disability died on average 12 years earlier, at 58.

The condition affects how people communicate and relate to others, and it influences how they make sense of the world around them. Symptoms can range from mild to very severe.

More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder, research suggests. It affects 1 in 68 children, the CDC estimates.

An ‘Outrage’

"The inequality in outcomes for autistic people shown by this data is shameful, but we must not forget the real individuals and families behind these statistics,” says Jon Spiers, chief executive of the U.K.-based charity Autistica, in the group’s report, “Personal Tragedies, Public Crisis.”

"Every death is a personal tragedy and a national outrage. For years, society and the health-care system have ignored the voices of devastated families who have lost autistic loved ones unnecessarily, and far too young.

"That ends now. We cannot accept a situation where many autistic people will never see their 40th birthday."

The charity says the findings support previous evidence that people with autism are at heightened risk of mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, neurological conditions such as epilepsy, and other diseases including diabetes and heart disease.

Show Sources


Autistica: "Personal tragedies, public crisis."

Hirvikoski, T. British Journal of Psychiatry, 2016.

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