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Davis Journal

Ask an Expert: Autism and suicide

Apr 12, 2024 08:34AM ● By Falon Mansfield, Division Director at The Jason Foundation

April is Autism Awareness Month, or Autism Acceptance Month, as the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network prefers. According to the CDC, recognizing this month “raises awareness about autism acceptance and promotes inclusion and connectedness for people with autism.” [1] Another benefit to creating a dedicated time to learn more about autism and uplift autistic people is that this attention urges researchers and policymakers to consider issues that are relevant to autistic people when they may not have otherwise. That is especially relevant when it comes to suicide prevention among autistic individuals because recognizing that an autistic person may not display the same warning signs of suicidal ideation as a non-autistic person could save lives.

According to a review of the literature surrounding suicidal ideation and behaviors, autistic youth are six times more likely to make a suicide attempt than their non-autistic peers. [2] Additionally, autistic youth are twice as likely to die by suicide than their non-autistic peers. [3] These numbers are heartbreaking and indicate that suicide prevention spaces and research may not include autistic people in the conversations about suicide as much as is necessary.

In observance of Autism Acceptance Month and to raise awareness about the ways that suicidal ideation may look different in a young autistic person, here are three different warning signs that a young person might be considering suicide and some ways to support them. This list is not exhaustive and will not cover every individual.

1. Previous Attempts:

The risk of death by suicide increases with each attempt. If you know that a young person has struggled with thoughts of suicide before, and especially if you know they have made a suicide attempt, consider them to be at risk of another attempt.

It is also crucial to watch for self-injury. Though self-injury does not necessarily indicate suicidal intent, it could mean that a young person is struggling with emotions that are overwhelming and uncomfortable. Especially in autistic young people who may have trouble clearly expressing or verbalizing emotions at a distressing time, the presence or increase – if some self-harming behavior is typical – in self-harming behaviors may suggest a crisis.

2. Depression and Anxiety:

It is not uncommon for an autism diagnosis to occur alongside mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. Research shows that as many as 70% of autistic youth also have a co-occurring mental health condition. [4] Because of this fact, a young autistic person appearing depressed or anxious may not be a reason in itself to be concerned about suicide. However, it is vital to recognize when signs of depression or anxiety continue for long periods of time (usually two weeks or more) and when they extend outside the realm of what is standard for the individual.

In some individuals, isolation may be an indication that a person is depressed. For others, perhaps in a young autistic person who gets overstimulated in certain situations, isolation may be a way of self-regulating. In this case, the concern would be if isolation happens more frequently or if signs of depression occur alongside other changes in behavior that are out of character.

3. Lack of Interest:

A young person showing a lack of interest in things that used to excite them is always an indicator that a caregiver or other adult should keep an eye on the young person’s well-being. A change in special interests may be more noticeable in an autistic youth who frequently engages in or discusses a particular interest. If a young person has stopped talking excitedly about a topic that used to bring them joy and comfort, it is wise for the adult to consider why this may be.

If the young person feels comfortable discussing their thoughts with you, you could ask if another interest has captured their attention or what kind of things they enjoy doing instead. Often, a lack of interest in one prominent area will extend to other areas of their life. For example, you may notice things like changes in appearance, attendance, friendships, and relationships, or sleeping and eating patterns.

Each individual will vary greatly in how they display warning signs of suicidal ideation, but they often do give some sort of indication that they are struggling either through their words or actions. The important takeaway is to watch for major changes in behavior that last for several weeks at a time.

If you or someone around you is considering suicide, there is help available! You can call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 from anywhere in the U.S., and you will be routed to a communication center in your area. The lifeline can provide resources and advice on next steps. You can also use SAMHSA’s facility locator to find behavioral health and substance use treatment that is accessible to you at For more information about warning signs and risk factors of suicide in young people, The Jason Foundation has a wealth of resources available on their website at

The Jason Foundation is a non-profit that specializes in youth and young adult suicide prevention.