Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental and neurological disorder that affects how an individual interacts with others, as well as learns, behaves and communicates. While some individuals on the spectrum can learn to be independent, others require long-term support and care. Additionally, individuals on the autism spectrum are more likely to have mental-health conditions, with data showing that suicide rates are higher in this particular group.
New research has found that individuals with autism who also have learning disabilities have heightened chances of dying prematurely in comparison to the general public. The researchers’ objective was to look into whether autism directly impacted the average life expectancy for individuals diagnosed with the disorder in the United Kingdom.
For their research, the investigators anonymized three decades’ worth of data from about 6,500 individuals who had been diagnosed as autistic with a learning disability and more than 17,000 individuals diagnosed with autism but no learning disability. They determined that autistic individuals who had no learning disabilities had an average life expectancy of 76.8 years for women and 74.6 years for men. Those with learning disabilities had lower life expectancy, with researchers noting it stood at 69.6 and 71.7 years for women and men respectively.
In their report, the investigators stated that their research was the first to estimate life expectancy of autistic individuals, noting that their findings highlighted a crucial need to address inequalities to prevent premature deaths of individuals on the autism spectrum.
Professor Josh Stott, the study’s lead investigator, added that while autism itself didn’t directly decrease life expectancy, autistic individuals experienced health inequalities that prevented them from obtaining the help and support they needed, when they needed it.
The study’s findings were reported in “The Lancet Regional Health-Europe” journal.
Autism Europe director Aurélie Baranger noted that the results aligned with findings from other studies from the United States and Europe. Baranger explained some reasons that could lead to this lowering in life expectancy, including misdiagnosis, issues with access to healthcare, mental-health conditions and other comorbidities.
Regarding misdiagnosis, it is estimated that roughly five million individuals in the European Union are on the spectrum. However, most of those aged 50 years and older haven’t been diagnosed. This is backed by prior research, which found that the number of autistic individuals in the United Kingdom may be two times higher than the figures recorded.
In other news, the European Parliament recently approved a resolution that would harmonize the rights of autistic people across nations in the European Union. The resolution covers access to healthcare, education and employment.
As an entity, Autism Europe is also calling for a public-health plan for autism that includes relevant training for health workers and accommodation in healthcare premises for autistic individuals.
Hopefully, the novel treatments being developed by companies such as PaxMedica Inc. (NASDAQ: PXMD) can offer better clinical outcomes to those with an autism diagnosis, thereby reducing the number of people who remain insufficiently treated despite being diagnosed with this condition.
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