Representatives from the charity Autistica have warned that people with autism are dying earlier than the general population.
The charity states that research carried out in Sweden suggests that autistic people are dying significantly earlier than the general population, most commonly as a result of epilepsy or suicide. The study, which has been published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found that on average people with autism die 16 years earlier than those who don’t have autism.
In response to the findings, the charity is now hoping to raise £10 million to find more research into autism and its effects on health and life expectancy.
Research suggests that around 1 percent of the UK population suffers from autism. This equates to an estimated 700,000 people. Autistica is worried that autism is a “hidden problem” and wants to do more to raise awareness of the condition and provide support for those diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders.
During the research period, scientists at the Karolinska Institute analysed data from 27,000 adults with autism. They used a pool of 2.7 million non-autistic adults as a control group. Following careful analysis, the team found that people with autism and a learning disability linked to the condition died more than 30 years earlier than the control group. The average life expectancy was just 39 years old and the main cause of death was epilepsy. Those with autism and no associated learning disabilities died an average of 12 years earlier than the control group. In this group, heart disease was the most common cause of death, followed by suicide.
Dr Tatja Hirvikoski, lead researcher, described the revelations as “shocking and disheartending” and called for urgent action to improve our understanding of autism and increase support for autistic people.