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Injuries the largest cause of death for people with autism: Study


Matt Woodley


27/02/2019 12:06:51 PM

GP and autism advocate Dr James Best believes the results confirm people with ASD have a different set of health risk factors.

‘It’s important to try and reframe the way you manage and educate your patients, or the parents of your patient with autism, with these different set of risk factors,’ Dr Best said
‘It’s important to try and reframe the way you manage and educate your patients, or the parents of your patient with autism, with these different set of risk factors,’ Dr Best said

The mortality rates for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are double those of the general population and researchers believe unmet mental health needs may be a factor.
 
The researchers’ results were derived from an Australian-first University of New South Wales (UNSW) study, which analysed linked data sets on death rates, risk factors and cause of death for 36,000 people on the autism spectrum.
 
While cancer and circulatory diseases are the leading cause of deaths in the general population, injury and poisoning – including accidents, suicide and deaths related to self-harm – were the most common causes for people with ASD.
 
GP and autism advocate Dr James Best told newsGP he was not surprised by the results, but that they did confirm people with ASD have a different set of health risk factors.
 
‘It gives us a clear indication that a lot of these things are preventable. If you know that, for example, accidents and such are more common in this population, then safety education strategies can be implemented,’ he said.
 
‘It’s not just about teaching them social and communication skills. Safety is a very large factor, as is looking after their mental health as they get older.’
 
Dr Best said the results also provide further evidence to support structural reform concerning the treatment of people on the spectrum, and the importance for individual GPs to have an awareness of the patient point of view.
 
‘It’s important to try and reframe the way you manage and educate your patients, or the parents of your patient with autism, with these different set of risk factors taken into consideration,’ he said.
 
‘When you’re talking to new parents, I think talking about safety is a really useful thing. That’s included in the child health record safety checklists and such, but I think it becomes more important for children on the spectrum because they are clearly more prone to run into trouble.’

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Safety education is important when treating patients with ASD.

According to the research, people on the spectrum with co-occurring conditions such as chronic physical illness, epilepsy and mental health conditions, are at a higher risk of death, as are those with an intellectual disability.
 
Professor Julian Trollor, Chair of Intellectual Disability Mental Health at UNSW Medicine, said one of the most important features of the study is that the elevated mortality rate for people with autism is not a result of them being on the spectrum.
 
‘Rather, the results indicate there needs to be a greater understanding of autism and co-occurring conditions within the health services sector, and that more equitable access to health services needs to be a priority for government and health service providers,’ Professor Trollor said.
 
‘These insights are helpful because targeted strategies can be developed for those at higher risk.
 
‘Combined with the information about mental health being a risk factor for death, the higher proportion of deaths from injury and poisoning may point to unmet mental health needs that this group is experiencing.
 
‘Overall, the high risk of death in people on the autism spectrum is a troubling indicator of the range of health inequalities experienced by this population.’
 
New national guidelines were released in October to improve the diagnosis of ASD, and autism health advocate Ms Kathy Isaacs said immediate action is now needed to address health inequalities experienced by those with the condition.
 
‘The results of this study should serve as a call to action for government and health service providers. Every single Australian deserves healthcare that is both readily accessible and accommodating of their individual needs, but this study confirms the sense within the autistic community that this is not what is happening,’ she said.
 
‘We need to ensure that all of our system-level health promotion and preventative health programs are accessible, that the bare minimum goal of autism awareness is met for all staff, and finally, that people on the spectrum are consulted and involved at all stages of health policy development.’



ASD autism autism spectrum disorder research





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