Suicidal Thoughts in Adults with Asperger Syndrome


Medical Research Council, UK; Three Guineas Trust; Baily Thomas Foundation; The Autism Research Trust; The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care East of England at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust* 


Dr. Sarah Cassidy

(Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement, Coventry University; Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge)

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen

(Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, UK; Cambridge Lifespan Asperger Syndrome Service, Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Trust).

Project objectives

  • To explore the life time experience of suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts in adults with late diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome in comparison to other clinical groups
  • To explore the risk factors (depression and autistic traits) associated with life time experience of suicidal ideation and behaviours in adults with late diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome

Research impact

Transition into adulthood for people with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) is a particularly challenging time because it is often accompanied by a lack of support services (Pilling et al. 2012), and poor outcomes in terms of health and social difficulties (Balfe et al. 2010), quality of life (Howlin et al. 2013), achievement of occupational potential (Howling et al. 2000), social exclusion and isolation (Baron-Cohen, 2008) and high rates of depression (Lugnegard et al. 2011; Sterling et al. 2008), a known risk factor for completed suicide in typical development (Barraclough et al. 1974). However, very little is known about suicidality in those with ASC (Cassidy et al., 2014; Segers and Rawana, 2014). We conducted the first large scale clinic study showing that adults with late diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (a subgroup on the autism spectrum showing core symptoms in the absence of language delay or intellectual disability), to be at significantly higher risk of suicidal thoughts (66%), than patients with psychosis (59%), and the UK general population (17%). Depression and high autistic traits were significant risk factors in this. Under the new developmental disorders research theme in the Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement, we are continuing to explore the rates and risk factors for suicidal thoughts and behaviours in adults with ASC, and identifying ways of better supporting and improving outcomes and quality of life for these individuals.

*the views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health

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