A new study discovers communication problems among children can lead to depression and increase the risk of self-harm and suicidal intent during adolescence.
Investigators specifically looked to see if childhood problems with social communication associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) were linked with self-harm and suicidal thoughts at age 16.
The review comes in response to new findings that teen suicidality is under-recognized among children with ASD. Until now, community-based studies on suicidal thoughts and behaviors among children with symptoms of ASD have been limited.
Moreover, factors that could explain the risk of suicide in this population, such as depression, have also not been studied. Study findings appear in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).
Researchers analyzed data on 5,031 adolescents from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), to assess whether there were any associations between ASD-like traits and the risk of suicidal self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and plans by the age of 16 years. Communication traits/challenges included abilities related to social communication, pragmatic language, sociability, and repetitive behavior.
Additionally, depression in early adolescence (at 12 years of age) was considered as a possible explanatory mechanism.
“Our study suggests that children who have difficulties with social communication are at higher risk for suicidal ideation and behavior in late adolescence,” said Dr. Iryna Culpin, senior research associate in the Bristol Medical School (PHS).
“Depressive symptoms in early adolescence partially explain this association.”
The researchers found that children with difficulties in social communication had a higher risk of suicidal self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide plans by the age of 16 years as compared to those without such difficulties.
There was no evidence for an association between a diagnosis of ASD and suicidal behaviors, but the sample was not large enough to definitively rule out such an association.
The team found that approximately one-third of the association between social communication difficulties and suicidal self-harm was explained by depression in early adolescence.
“Future studies should focus on identifying other changeable mechanisms to develop preventative interventions for autistic people,” Culpin concluded.