***This is an article on suicide prevention.***
In honor of September being National Suicide Prevention month, I thought I’d dedicate this column to issues of suicide in the autism community. While I do understand suicide is not a welcome topic, I believe that is one of the reasons it is such a problem. No one wants to talk about it. Although, I believe if we did talk about it more, people wouldn’t feel like they have to keep their feelings a secret and there’s a better chance they will reach out for help.
Another unwelcome topic, at least for me, is statistics, but it helps to understand the gravity of the situation. Wait! Keep reading, I will go easy on the statistics, I promise.
First statistic – suicidal thoughts and behaviors are significantly higher (66%) in autistic adults than in the general public (17%). We need to find out why!
Second statistic – a diagnosis of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) or having autistic traits are risk factors in suicidality. Ok…but why?
Third and final statistic – unique risk factors in the autism community are camouflaging and unmet needs. Oh, that’s why. Or at least two reasons why.
With the statistics over and done with, what do we do with them?
First, we recognize the magnitude of the situation. Suicide is the second leading cause of premature death in the autism community. It’s like a killer in our midst that no one wants to talk about, instead of meeting it head on. Think about the ‘elephant in the room’- as soon as someone addresses that elusive elephant, it goes away. I’m not saying if we just talk about suicide it will cease being a problem, but I do believe talking openly and honestly about suicide and/or feeling suicidal will be a great first step in solving the problem.
Research has shown people are at a higher risk of suicide just by being autistic or having autistic traits. Thankfully, the research went one step further and identified two risk factors that are, at times, a result of autism. They are camouflaging and unmet needs.
I am going to say that both of those risk factors have one thing in common – unacceptance. I believe the key to begin the journey to health and healing for many of us on the spectrum is being accepted by society for who we are and for society to accept that our needs are what we say they are- no questions asked and no comparing us to non autistic people.
The silver lining… we now have a practical research study that has given us information to help ourselves if we experience feelings of hopelessness leading to suicide. Information we can take and be proactive towards changing so we may not even get to that place of hopelessness. Knowing that camouflaging and unmet needs are the unique risk factors for us, we can work towards being our true selves and building a support network.
We have the right to be who we are, all the time, wherever we are, without rejection, bullying, and/or the brunt of preconceived notions of autism. No one is going to give it to us, we have to just live it the best we can. We are awesome people! Let’s take on the mindset that if we are not accepted, it’s not a reflection on us; it just means the rejectors will miss out on knowing some pretty amazing people. Poor them.
Building support for unmet needs can get complicated because it involves people. It is still possible even if it takes going to different places for help until the right one is found for any particular person. Also, online support is support. It is solid support that we may not be able to find in real life. This September, during National Suicide Prevention month, as a person who struggles with issues of suicide, I am hopeful about the research that has given useful information. It’s a great silver lining…
If feeling suicidal-
In the US call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Or Text “GO” to 741741 – the 24/7 Suicide Hotline
Outside the US – go to www.suicide.org a website containing hotline call numbers for many countries around the world. http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html
Sarah Cassidy, Louise Bradley, Rebecca Shaw, Simon Baron-Cohen Risk markers for suicidality in autistic adults Molecular Autism, Volume 9, Article 42, July 2018
About Lisa Morgan
After working as a software engineer for a few years in the mid-eighties, Lisa stayed home after her first child was born for the next thirteen years homeschooling her kids. Now, four kids later and a master’s degree in the Art of Teaching, she has taught in different school settings for 15 more years. After experiencing the loss of her husband of 29 years to suicide, Lisa authored, Living Through Suicide Loss with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Now, Lisa, an autistic adult diagnosed late in life, has become an advocate for other autistic adults who have had similar experiences. She has started a conversation with several nonprofit organizations in the US to help enhance the suicide prevention and postvention resources to be a better fit for autistic adults, as well as, to spread awareness of the resources available to the autism community.