Mortality and cause of death for Autistic Australians

25 Feb 2019

New Autism CRC research, published in the leading academic journal Autism Research, has found that the comparative mortality of autistic people is twice that of the general population. The UNSW-based research team and Autism CRC call for a whole of health and disability systems response to this issue to improve outcomes for autistic people.
In the big data study, the researchers analysed large linked datasets on mortality rates, risk factors and cause of death of 36,000 autistic people in NSW, finding that people on the autism spectrum have elevated mortality across the lifespan. 

A brief Q&A about the study has been developed by autistic advocates, Kathy Isaacs, Katharine Annear, Geraldine Robertson and Jac den Houting, at the request of Autism CRC. We thank them greatly for putting this together.

The study also identified factors that influence mortality risk.

Mortality risk was associated with autistic people’s health needs – people with co-occuring conditions such as chronic physical illness, epilepsy and mental health conditions were at higher risk. People who also had an intellectual disability had a higher risk, too.

These insights are helpful because targeted strategies can be developed for those at higher risk.

Autistic people were most likely to die from injury or poisoning (including accident and suicide), while nervous system disorders such as epilepsy were the next most common cause of death. The general population, on the other hand, were most likely to die from cancer, or from diseases such as heart attack or stroke.

The results indicate there needs to be a greater understanding of autism and co-occuring conditions within the health services sector, and that more equitable access to health services (for both physical and mental health) has to be a priority for government and health service providers. 

Autism CRC and the research community would like to work with the autistic and autism communities, health service providers and government to address the issues highlighted by this study.

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