Why autistic people are at a greater risk for suicide

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September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide is the number one cause of death among people with autism. Dr. Danny Openden, President and CEO of the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC), discusses why that is and what can be done.

As a group, their suicide risk may be two to seven times higher than the risk for youth and adults who do not have autism.

“The majority of these people have Asperger Syndrome, or ‘high-functioning autism.’ Cognitively, they’re fine and are more aware of where they don’t fit in. When you combine that with mental health challenges and recognizing where they don’t connect socially, that’s where you can see depression and other challenges,” Dr. Openden said.

According to Dr. Openden, kids on the spectrum attempt to mask or camouflage their behavior with children who don’t have autism.

Patty Dion’s son, Dave, committed suicide, and Dion has been a longtime supporter of SARRC. She has funded programs that help identify children who might be missed for autism but who have social challenges that can lead to greater implications as they grow older. She lost her son for similar reasons.

“His father and I went to doctor after doctor, were given misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, none of which addressed Dave’s core problem, and that was ‘Mom, how do I make a friend?'” Dion said.

Dion’s son recognized he was an outsider and didn’t fit in with everyone else. To his family, he seemed fine, but Dion saw he was the kid alone on the playground. As he got older, he couldn’t acquire employment because he saw things differently.

“The only way to address this issue is to identify children at a very early age. The quality of their life can be improved substantially with the tools that they can use,” Dion said.

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7 in the U.S., dial 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

Dr. Danny Openden, President and CEO of Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC); Patty Dion

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