Can autism cause death?

Samir Kadri
Author: Samir Kadri Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have an increased likelihood of premature death when compared with unaffected individuals. [1]

ASD inhibits neurodevelopmental growth, affecting the way a person communicates and socially interacts with others.

Research shows that the risk of premature mortality is estimated at between two and 10 times as much in the ASD population, due to a number of reasons such as comorbid disorders and the increased risk of suicide. [1]

Causes of premature death in people with ASD


Diagnosed in 20-40% of autistic people, epilepsy is a major cause of death in people with ASD. [2] This impact is particularly pronounced in people with severe ASD who also suffer from learning difficulties. [2]

The reason for the high comorbidity between autism and epilepsy isn’t fully understood, but is believed to be due to a certain genetic variations as well as chemical imbalances and environmental influences.

Research published in the Journal of Child Neurology concluded that when ASD and epilepsy occurred together, the mortality rate increased by over 800%. [3]

Early identification of epilepsy or autism in individuals is vital to developing valuable interventions and treatment plans to facilitate better outcomes for people with either or both conditions. [3]

The Epilepsy Society campaigns to raise awareness about avoidable deaths, underpinned by a belief that 39% of deaths could be avoided. Preventative measures include increased education and knowledge sharing among caregivers about how to treat seizures, implementing positive lifestyle changes into an affected person’s daily routine, and controlling risk with medications.


It is more common for autistic people to have suicidal thoughts, and ultimately take their own life, than others in society. [4] This many be due to high levels of social ostracization in autistic people, the added trauma of living with autism, and the added difficulties that autistic people face in a world built for neurotypical individuals.

We may not recognize when people with ASD are considering suicide because of their difficulty communicating with other people, expressing their thoughts verbally, and potential lack of inclination to talk about their feelings. [4]

Research from the Karolinska Institute found that suicide is the primary cause of premature death in people with ASD and no learning disability. [1]

Autistic adults without a learning disability are 9 times more likely to die from suicide than the general population, whilst children with autism are 28 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide. [4]

Comorbid genetic and medical conditions

Autistic people have a higher risk for a range of conditions linked to shorter life expectancy. These include genetic disorders, neurological disorders, mental health conditions, and coronary heart disease [5]

Genetic disorders common in children with ASD include Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, type I von Recklinghausen’s disease and tuberous sclerosis complex. [5]

Neurological disorders more prominent in children with ASD include cerebral palsy, migraine/headaches, hydrocephalus. [5]

People with ASD are also more prone to developing mental health conditions compared with general population, [6]. Depression, anxiety, psychotic disorders are all commonly diagnosed in autistic people.


It can feel immensely stressful for an autistic person trying to navigate their way in a world that isn’t optimized for them to thrive in.

Early identification of any comorbidities impacting people with ASD is integral to providing appropriate treatment plans and coping mechanisms to facilitate a good quality of life.    

Both autistic people and their families may benefit from individual or group therapy sessions for support and education. Optimizing an autistic child’s health provides them with the best foundation for learning how to function independently, which may enable them to live a longer, more fulfilling life.

  1. Hirvikoski, T., Mittendorfer-Rutz, E., Boman, M., Larsson, H., Lichtenstein, P., & Bölte, S. (2016). Premature mortality in autism spectrum disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry, 208(3), 232–238.
  2. Hawkes, N. (2016). People with autism die 16 years earlier on average, says charity. BMJ, i1615.
  3. Mortality rate is increased in persons with autism who also have epilepsy, study finds. (2011, April 11). ScienceDaily.,by%20more%20than%20800%20percent.
  4. Suicide – Autism | Autistica | Autistica. (2020, July 14). Autistica.
  5. Al-Beltagi, M. (2021). Autism medical comorbidities. World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics, 10(3), 15–28.
  6. Lugo-Marín, J., Magán-Maganto, M., Rivero-Santana, A., Cuéllar-Pompa, L., Alviani, M., Río, C. J., Díez, E., & Canal-Bedia, R. (2019). Prevalence of psychiatric disorders in adults with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 59, 22–33.
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Samir Kadri
Author Samir Kadri Writer

Samir Kadri is a medical writer with a non-profit sector background, committed to raising awareness about mental health.

Published: Jun 15th 2023, Last edited: Nov 10th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jun 15th 2023