I wanted to share some information about Autistic people and the crisis our population is facing with suicide, homelessness and lack of accessibility to services, support and care in the community.
Also, I’d like to specifically share the ‘Autism and Homelessness” toolkit .pdf created by multiple organizations, professionals and Autistics together in the United Kingdom. I believe this toolkit can help folks here understand Autistic people, and Autistics in crisis, better and start the conversation of how we can work towards a brighter future for all Autistics born today.
First, I’d like to address a myth in Fresno that has come to my attention that Autistic people don’t suffer suicide ideation and suicide. This myth is the furthest thing from the truth: Autistic people consider suicide and complete at a horrifying rate. This is an incredible crisis happening worldwide and right here in our community.
The top cause of early death for Autistics worldwide, after the age of 14, is suicide. (Before that, it’s drowning.) Suicide rates for Autistic people is 9x higher than the typical population. Suicide rates of Autistic women are 15x higher. Small studies find that 20%–40% of Autistic adults have considered killing themselves and 15% report making at least one attempt.
Autistic children as young as 5 and 6 have been hospitalized for suicide attempts. Studies of Autistic children find that 11% have suicidal ideation and 4%–7% have made suicide attempts. The risk of making a suicide attempt is six times that of other children.
Autistic people’s median lifespan is 36 – 58 years. The shortened lifespan isn’t due to being Autistic, it’s due to being born different in a world that won’t accept differences and the tolls it takes on our bodies, minds and souls.
Research showed that 12% of all suicides are completed by Autistic people. One in three Autistic adults experience severe mental illness due to lack of support. Two out of three Autistic adults, diagnosed as adults, report they have contemplated suicide at some point in their lives. 79% of Autistic people experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifespan. Depression is the most common.
One third of Autistic adults do not leave the house most days. Two thirds report feeling depressed due to loneliness. Half of Autistics report staying home due to fear of abuse, with half of Autistics also reporting being abused by someone they thought was their friend. People with intellectual disabilities, including Autistic people, are three times more likely to be victims of abuse, neglect, robbery or assault. We also have high rates of fillicide and murder.
Autistics are far more likely to be homeless. Rates of autism among the homeless population is 3000 – 6000 x higher than the general population. Also, our population is incredibly diverse and different than the typical population with 70% of Autistic people don’t identify as heterosexual (10% of neurotypical people don’t identify with being heterosexual.) Transgender and gender-diverse adults are three to six times more likely as cisgender adults to be diagnosed as Autistic.
It’s estimated Autistic people make up 2%* of the overall American population. With an estimated 70 million Autistic people worldwide, this makes us an incredibly significant minority group. (* These are the lowest estimates known to date. It’s believed Autistic people have yet to be accurately counted yet. Many Autistics die unknown.)
Researchers are recently working with Autistics worldwide and learning more about Autistic masking and Autistic burnout (two very serious issues for mental health and wellness) and our horrific rates of suicide.
Autistic people are often misunderstood and often report traumatic experiences with law enforcement officers and first responders. While one in five Autistic youths have been stopped and questioned by police, two-thirds of police officers report they’ve not received training in how to interview an Autistic person.
Yes, those numbers are real. Autism is far more than most people understand. My goal to break myths and stigma, and help provide information and build bridges with community groups and folks to start addressing the crisis Autistics are facing right here in our own neighborhoods with suicide and homelessness.
As I understand it, Fresno has fluctuated between #2 and #3 largest homeless population in the nation. Access to services here are impossible for me to navigate alone – and many Autistics aren’t able to at all.
The most common response I receive when seeking crisis care and mental illness support for Autsitic people in this community is: “We don’t treat Autism.” The answer is confounding, and I’m not asking anyone to ‘treat autism’. We are born Autistic, we live Autistic and we’ll die Autistic. There’s treatment for comorbidities that many Autistic people have, but there’s no treatment for Autism itself.
When I ask for crisis care and mental illness support for LGBQTIA community, I’m not asking for organizations or groups to ‘treat homosexuality’ – I’m asking for appropiate, culturally sensitive and person-centered support, outreach and programs developed for our community’s needs. I’m seeking to educate others, build bridges with leadership and those who can help Autistic people to live a far better quality of life that includes comprehensive and appropriate health care, mental illness care, crisis support, housing, employment, education and to halt the incarceration as care that so often happens with Autistic people today.
Included in this email are links to research, articles on Autistics in regards to suicide and homelessness, and the PDF of “Autism and Homeless” Toolkit.
I’m available by email and messenger if you have any questions or would like to know more.
Thank you for your time and support.
— 1.1 – 2% of people are Autistic worldwide.*
— #1 Cause of Early death for Autistics is Suicide.
(Before age 14 it is drowning.)
— Suicide rates for Autistic people is 9x higher than typical population.*
— Suicide rates of Autistic women are 15x higher. *
— One in three Autistic adults experience severe mental illness because of lack of support.
— 70% of Autistics don’t identify as heterosexual ( 10% of typical population don’t identify as heterosexual.)
— Transgender and gender-diverse adults are three to six times more likely as cisgender adults to be diagnosed as Autistic.
— 12% of people who’ve died by suicide had definite or probable autism.
— Two out of three Autistic adults diagnosed as adults report they have contemplated suicide at some point in their lives.
— 79% of Autistic people experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifespan. Depression is the most common.
— Rates of autism among the homeless population is 3000% to 6000% higher than the general population.
— One third of Autistic adults do not leave the house most days.
— Two thirds of autistic adults feel depressed because of loneliness
— 50% of Autistic adults report staying home due to fear of abuse.
— People with intellectual disabilities, including those with autism, are three times more likely to be victims of abuse or neglect, robbery, or assault
— 15% of Autistic adults are employed full time. Depression is a risk factor of unemployment
— One in five Autistic youths have been stopped and questioned by the police.
— Two thirds of police officers report they’ve received no training in how to interview an Autistic person.
(* These are the lowest estimates known to date. Its believed Autistic people have yet to be accurately counted yet. Many Autistics die unknown.)
Quick info …
What is Autism?
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.
Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. If a person is autistic they are autistic for life, autism is not an illness or a disease and cannot be ‘cured’.
(Via Autism and Homelessness Toolkit
Autism is a form of neurodivergence, characterized by differences to the non-autistic population in several domains, including social and cognitive style, and sensory processing.
(Via “A Conceptual Analysis of Autistic Masking: Understanding the Narrative of Stigma and the Illusion of Choice” https://osf.io/6rwa5/)
Links and quotes to research/articles:
“Human Rights of Autistic People Are Not Being Met”
“People with autism account for a significant minority of the population worldwide, yet we are failing them in so many respects” —Simon Baron-Cohen
“It is totally unacceptable that Autistic people are born into our society as happy individuals and that by the time they reach adolescence or adulthood many of them have felt so battered by society that they no longer see any point in living.
“It is not for Autistic people to change: it is for society to change, to become more welcoming to people who are neurologically different, neurologically more sensitive, and who struggle with disabilities related to socializing, communication, and coping with unexpected change.
“This urgent change has to start from preschool onwards. A single death by suicide of an Autistic person is a tragedy and is one too many.”
— Simon Baron-Cohen, University of Cambridge
New Autism Study A “Shocking Wake-Up Call” For Society, Says Academics
“These are life and death issues. Research to date has failed to understand the link between autistic traits and suicide but this study suggests that promoting social inclusion and independence could literally save lives.”
- Mirabel Peyton, Researcher
“This is a shocking wake-up call for society, when a significant section of the population feel that they don’t belong in the world. As a society we urgently must do more to value neurodiversity. This could ultimately save lives.”
- Dr. Sarah Cassidy, University of Nottingham
The Hidden Danger Of Suicide In Autism
“I think part of the problem is that we only see things we’re paying attention to.
“Until very recently, we didn’t expect to see it, so we didn’t see suicidality in patients with [autism]; it just wasn’t on our radar.”
— Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University
“Clinicians may wrongly assume that people on the spectrum don’t have complicated emotions, or may discount their outbursts.
“These children feel a normal range of emotions as other children, but [they] don’t do it in a typical way, and they’re not necessarily taken as seriously because they have a wide range of emotions showing already.
”Doctors also misinterpret self-harm — a classic warning sign for suicide in the general population — as a part of autism.”
— Paul Lipkin, director of the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
“The hurts of bullying and social rebuffs may build up over time: Two out of three people diagnosed with autism as adults reported they have contemplated suicide at some point in their lives, according to a large study published in 2014.
“These adults “had been without support or understanding of autism for a long time.”
– Sarah Cassidy, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham in the U.K.
New Research Sheds Light On Why Suicide Is More Common In Autistic People
“To understand and prevent death by suicide in the autistic community, we must work with autistic people as equal partners in research, to ensure it is relevant and benefits those involved.
Growing research is showing that mental health services are failing autistic people, even when they are feeling suicidal. Our research suggests that this lack of support can also increase suicidal feelings. An urgent priority is to address this gap in service provision.”
- Dr. Sarah Cassidy, University of Nottingham
“I’ve had to live breathe and navigate a society that has often been without informed understanding towards autistic people. All my life in order to survive I’ve had to ‘be someone I’m not’ and this effort takes a toll on your inner being and confidence.
“We don’t want to ‘leave’, for us it’s not a statement or a cry for help, we just desire fulfilled lives as ourselves, but we are abraded to the point of absolute despair feeling ‘leaving’ has become the only option.
“Then in our ‘hours of need’ we find the system meant to support us makes ‘staying’ harder by adding to the misunderstanding or are just absent. This has to change especially for the next generations of autistic people, so they don’t accumulate the hurt we older autistic people have.
“This research is so vital for our survival and if actioned with appropriate support would bring both richness and worth to all of us, autistic and non-autistic alike.”
- Jon Adams, Autistic Activist
Understanding Suicide Risk in Autistic Adults: Comparing the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide in Autistic and Non-autistic Samples
A Conceptual Analysis of Autistic Masking: Understanding the Narrative of Stigma and the Illusion of Choice
“We move, communicate and think in ways that those who do not move, communicate and think in those ways struggle to empathize with, or understand, so they ‘Other’ us, pathologise us and exclude us for it.”
— Kieran Rose, Autistic activist and co-author of analysis
“Autistic masking (also referred to in the literature as camouflaging, compensation and most recently ‘adaptive morphing.’) is the conscious or unconscious suppression of natural responses and adoption of alternatives across a range of domains including social interaction, sensory experience, cognition, movement and behavior. Masking is an emerging research area …”
“Masking has been shown to relate to several key issues in the lives of Autistic people, such as relationships and diagnosis, suicidality, burnout and victimization.”
A Systematic Review of the Perceived Barriers and Facilitators to Accessing Psychological Treatment for Mental Health Problems in Individuals on the Autism Spectrum
Dying Before Their Time: Addressing Premature Mortality Rate Among Autistic People
A 20‐year study of suicide death in a statewide autism population
Autism And Homelessness: The Real Crisis
5 Things You Should Know About Autism And Homelessness
The Prevalence of Autistic Traits In A Homeless Population
Autistic People At Great Risk Of Becoming Homeless
Autism And Homelessness (Tool Kit)