INSAR RECAP: Where do we go from here? Learning how to prevent suicide in partnership with autistic people and their allies

On Friday, 3rd May, CRAE attended “Where do we go from here? Learning how to prevent suicide in partnership with autistic people and their allies” at INSAR, the world’s largest autism conference. Compared to the general population, autistic individuals are at an increased risk of suicide. Autistic adults who do not have a learning disability are 9 times more likely to die from suicide, and autistic children are 28 times more likely to think about or attempt suicide. This panel session discussed the context of current international suicide in autism research, provided reflections from lived experiences, and highlighted the importance of researchers working in partnership with autistic people and their allies to effectively understand, identify and manage risk of self-harm and suicide.

What do we know so far?

Jon Adams, autistic artist and trained geologist, drew on his own experiences, discussing how the mere existence of his autistic identity puts him at risk of suicide and sectioning. He went on to share the disbelief and blame that autistic people experience when disclosing their difficulties, often leaving them traumatised. Yet, he also mentions how ‘simple acts of kindness can prolong life’. He concluded by reminding attendees of the importance of researchers working in partnership with autistic people.

Sarah Cassidy (University of Nottingham) discussed the challenges of measuring suicidality in autistic people, as the current assessment tools can be challenging for autistic people, with questions often being too vague and broad. This results in autistic people frequently having difficulties communicating their suicidal intent. To address this issue, Sarah is currently developing a card-sort-task to help autistic people explain their suicidal thoughts and ideations.

Paul Lipkin (Kennedy Krieger Institute) shared his research on screening for suicide risk in autistic children and related conditions (age 8-17 years). He found that 8.9% of the 10.7% of people that were found to be being at risk of suicide, received a confirmed or probable diagnosis of autism in the subsequent 17-months. Almost all autistic participants (92%) had co-occurring psychiatric diagnoses, yet fortunately 81% already received mental health support. Lipkin argues that suicide risk screening is a viable and achievable, and should be part of routine healthcare.

Ashley Robertson (Coventry University) discussed her research into non-suicidal self-injury in autistic adults, self-identified autistic adults, and non-autistic adults. Data showed that, compared to non-autistic people, autistic adults report a wider range of forms and functions of non-suicidal self-injury, a different motivations for it, as well as reports of increased frequency and harm to more body parts.

What you can do if you are feeling suicidal

Talk to someone about how you feel. There are people that want to help and listen to you. Tell a friend, family member, GP, another person of trust, or speak to someone on a confidential phone line service. You can reach the Samaritans under 116 123 or Papyrus (for people under 35) on 0800 068 4141.

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