Certain groups of autistic people die 30 years younger than their peers, say charity Autistica, calling for an immediate review into autism deaths.
Premature deaths among autistic people are at “shocking levels” according to a charity report which found that certain groups with the condition die 30 years younger than the general population.
The striking figures amount to a “hidden crisis” in public health according to the charity, Autistica, which has called on the NHS to launch an immediate review into the scale and underlying causes of autism deaths in Britain.
The organisation’s report draws on published studies that reveal high rates of suicide among autistic people, with women at greatest risk of taking their own lives. Autistic people with no learning disabilities are nine times more likely to die from suicide compared to the rest of the population, the report states.
Some of the worst affected are those with secondary brain disorders, such as epilepsy, which is 20 to 40 times more common in people with autism. Those with such conditions on top of autism had an average life expectancy of only 39 years, according to research on 27,000 autistic people in Sweden that was published in November last year. Non-autistic people in the same study lived to an average age of 70.
“This new research confirms the true scale of the hidden mortality crisis in autism,” said Jon Spiers, Autistica’s chief executive. “The inequality in outcomes for autistic people shown in this data is shameful. We cannot accept a situation where many autistic people will never see their 40th birthday.”
The charity’s report, Personal Tragedies, Public Crisis, goes on to highlight further results from the Swedish study, including data which suggest that autistic adults died, on average, 16 years younger than the general population. Those with no intellectual impairments died 12 years younger, and even those labelled as “high functioning” because of their intellectual abilities were twice as likely to die young, the study found.
At a briefing in London, Spiers said the charity aimed to raise £10m over the next five years to fund research into premature deaths among autistic people in the UK. “We believe there is a moral imperative to act and to understand better why people with autism are dying so young,” he said.
About 1% of the UK population are affected by autism, a figure that amounts to 700,000 people. The estimated cost to the economy, in lost earnings, treatment and lifelong care, is estimated to reach more than £32bn a year. According to Autistica, a quarter of people with autism will speak few or no words, and only 15% will ever work full time. In the US, an estimated 3.5m people have autism spectrum disorder, which includes autism and Asperger’s syndrome.
Mark Lever at the National Autistic Society, said: “The 700,000 autistic people in the UK and their families will be deeply distressed by these findings. Our charity cannot, and will not, accept a world where autistic people are dying more than a decade earlier than the rest of the population.
“While this report is based on Swedish research, we have no reason to believe the situation would be that different here. Indeed, we fear it could be worse. The government and national health authorities must urgently investigate what’s going on in this country and start to put things right.
“Autistic people and their families need reassurance from government and theNHS that this is going to be taken seriously and action will be taken.”