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Communication Issues Among Kids With Autism May Lead to Self-Harm

Communication Issues Among Kids With Autism May Lead to Self-Harm

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.

Source: Elsevier

Communication Issues Among Kids With Autism May Lead to Self-Harm

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Communication Issues Among Kids With Autism May Lead to Self-Harm. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 2 May 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.