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IAN Director Addresses International Summit on Suicide and Autism

Date Published: 
May 30, 2017

Dr. Paul H. Lipkin, director of the Interactive Autism Network (IAN), participated in the first International Suicide in Autism Summit held in Newcastle, United Kingdom, this month. The summit's goal was to find ways to prevent the "worryingly high rates" of suicidal thoughts and behavior among people with autism. IAN is currently conducting research into mental health and suicidal behaviors in children and certain adults with autism.

Research into the topic is limited. A study led by Dr. Sarah Cassidy of Coventry University, an organizer of the conference, found that two-thirds of newly diagnosed adults with Asperger's Syndrome had considered suicide, and a third had planned or attempted suicide. In a prepared statement, she said, “What relatively little we know about suicidality in autism points to a worryingly high prevalence of people with the condition contemplating and attempting to take their own life. More concerning still, the small body of research that does exist exposes serious shortcomings in how prepared we are to intervene and provide effective support to those with autism who are most at risk of dying by suicide."

The summit's goals included sharing information and identifying areas to research, as well as identifying priorities for policies and practices to reduce the suicide risk in autism. Participants included researchers, families, service providers, and people with autism.

Dr. Lipkin addressed summit participants about translating autism research into policies and practices. Dr. Lipkin, a pediatrician specializing in neurodevelopmental disabilities at Kennedy Krieger Institute, has extensive experience in shaping policies affecting autism and developmental disorders. He provided national leadership on autism through his work with the American Academy of Pediatrics. He also was a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow in the U.S. Health and Human Services agency.

He told the summit participants that IAN recently invited parents and guardians of children and dependent adults with autism to complete a survey about mental health and suicidal behaviors in autism spectrum disorder. Referring to the seriousness of this issue, he said, "We're no longer talking about quality of life; we're talking life and death issues."