Suicidal Thoughts Alarmingly Common Among Young Kids With Autism, Survey Finds

Findings from a new survey indicate that many children with autism struggle with suicidal thoughts and behaviors. (Dan Meyers/Unsplash)

New research suggests that more than a third of children with autism ages 8 and younger have had suicidal thoughts, and not all of these children necessarily show warning signs.

In a survey of 968 caregivers of children with autism ages 8 to 17 nationwide, more than 40% reported that their child wanted to die.

The findings were even more surprising when the researchers specifically looked at children ages 8 and younger. Within this group, 36.2% reported wanting to die, 35.3% reported wanting to end their own life, and 18.1% reported planning suicide.

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“The results are concerning,” said Dr. Benjamin Schindel, a neurodevelopmental disabilities researcher at the Kennedy Krieger Institute who led the research published this month in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. “We were very surprised to discover that the expression of suicidal ideation began at such a young age in these children with ASD. “This rate appears to be significantly higher compared to their neurotypical peers.”

For the research, caregivers of children with autism were asked to complete a questionnaire about mental health and suicidal behaviors between May and October 2017. All caregivers who responded were participants in the Interactive Autism Network, a web-based autism registry. who collected data. of approximately 55,000 families of children and adults with autism between 2006 and 2019.

The high rate of suicidal thoughts identified among young children is particularly concerning, the researchers said, because there is a lack of validated suicide risk screening tools and interventions for this age group. And while they noted that the National Institute of Mental Health says warning signs of suicide in children can include changes in behavior, such as extreme mood swings, withdrawing from friends and family, and giving away belongings, not all people with autism who are at risk show signs.

The Kennedy Krieger researchers said they are now examining patients with autism as young as 8 years old.

“Suicide is complicated, tragic and also preventable,” Schindel said. “It is important for parents to monitor their children’s mental health and alert their healthcare providers if they have concerns so they can be connected to preventative mental health services, such as counseling and, in some cases, medication.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

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