Researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health recently conducted a study to address the finding that individuals with autism, on average, die approximately 36 years sooner than someone without autism. Lead researcher, Dr. Guohua Li, a professor of epidemiology, and her team analyzed data from The United States National Vital Statistics System, screening 32 million death certificates in total. This research is the first of its kind to specifically examine injury mortality in individuals with autism and identify any patterns that could be found within a fifteen year timeframe.
The researchers identified 1,367 individuals on the spectrum who died between 1999-2014 and found that deaths for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder had risen almost sevenfold within those fifteen years.
Suffocation, asphyxiation, and drowning accounted for nearly 80% of deaths due to injury in children with ASD.
Medical News Today quotes Dr. Li saying, “Our analysis reveals that children with autism are 160 times as likely to die from drowning as the general pediatric population. Given the exceptionally heightened risk of drowning for children with autism, swimming classes should be the intervention of top priority.”
Dr. Li believes that after diagnosis, enrollment in swimming lessons should be immediate, even before any type of therapy. He views the lessons as a precautionary step in keeping a child on the spectrum safe, as well as a necessary survival skill.
This raised the question of why children with autism were more likely–160 times more likely–to drown compared to the rest of the pediatric population. Medical News Today goes on to quote Dr. Li saying, “With impaired communication and social skills, autistic kids tend to seek relief of their heightened anxiety from the serenity of water bodies. Unfortunately, this behavior too often leads to tragedies.”
This research raises immense concern for the need to implement swimming lessons into treatment plans for ASD.