CLICK HERE TO JOIN OUR FREE FACEBOOK GROUP!

How Does Autism Affect Life Span

Explore how autism may influence life span and strategies for enhancing health outcomes in ASD.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
May 14, 2024
7 min read
min read

Understanding Autism Life Expectancy

Navigating the landscape of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be complex, especially when it comes to understanding the potential impact on life expectancy.

Impact of Autism on Life Span

One common question many parents of children with ASD have is, "does autism affect life span?" Studies indicate that individuals with ASD do experience increased morbidity and decreased life expectancy compared to the general population. The life expectancy for individuals with ASD is between 20 and 36 years shorter than the general population source.

In a study involving over 27,000 Swedish people diagnosed with ASD, researchers found that the average life expectancy among those with severe autism is 39.5 years. This figure rises to 58 years for those with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome Thinking Autism. It's important to note that these are averages, and individual factors can influence the life expectancy of a person with ASD.

Co-Occurring Medical Conditions

The shorter life expectancy among individuals with ASD is closely related to higher rates of co-occurring medical conditions. These conditions can include epilepsy, gastrointestinal disorders, disrupted sleep, feeding issues, cardiovascular problems, mental health conditions, and early parkinsonism source.

Neurological, immune, gastrointestinal, and metabolic disorders are more prevalent in individuals with ASD, which can have a detrimental effect on daily functioning, social communication, and behavior. They also increase the risk of developing serious medical conditions. Poor health outcomes and early mortality in autism are not solely explained by the inability of individuals with autism to communicate their symptoms or seek regular health checks. Physical health problems persist throughout the lifespan and are intrinsically linked to the emergence of autism Thinking Autism.

Early-life health conditions, along with pregnancy and birth complications, can increase the risk of developing ASD. Infants exhibiting signs of physical distress and dysregulation, such as feeding and sleeping difficulties, are at a high risk for autism. Interestingly, medical problems seem to override genetic factors for autism, as higher rates of autism are observed in genetically identical twins who had a history of early medical problems Thinking Autism.

Overall, understanding the potential impact of autism on life span, as well as the co-occurring medical conditions often associated with ASD, can help parents and caregivers plan and provide the best possible care for their loved ones.

Factors Influencing Life Expectancy

Several factors contribute to the life expectancy of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Understanding these factors can help parents and caregivers provide the best possible care and support for their loved ones with autism.

Health Challenges in Autism

Individuals with ASD experience increased morbidity and have a life expectancy that is 20 to 36 years shorter than the general population. They also have higher rates of co-occurring medical conditions such as epilepsy, gastrointestinal disorders, disrupted sleep, feeding issues, cardiovascular problems, mental health conditions, and early parkinsonism [1].

Research indicates that individuals with autism have poorer health outcomes and a shorter lifespan compared to their peers without autism. A study of over 27,000 Swedish people diagnosed with ASD found that the average life expectancy among those with severe autism is 39.5 years, rising to only 58 years for those with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome.

Physical health-related problems can cause the core autism symptoms that form the diagnosis of the disorder. However, poor health outcomes and early mortality in autism are not solely explained by the inability of individuals with autism to communicate their symptoms or seek regular health checks. Physical health problems are persistent throughout the lifespan and are intrinsically linked to the emergence of autism.

Certain health conditions, including neurological, immune, gastrointestinal, and metabolic disorders, are more prevalent in individuals with autism. These conditions can have a detrimental effect on daily functioning, social communication, behavior, and increase the risk of developing serious medical conditions.

Early-Life Health Conditions

Early-life health conditions, as well as pregnancy and birth complications, can increase the risk of developing autism. Infants displaying signs of physical distress and dysregulation, such as feeding and sleeping difficulties, are at a higher risk for autism. Interestingly, medical problems override genetic factors for autism, as evidenced by higher rates of autism in genetically identical twins who had a history of early medical problems [2].

These factors highlight the importance of early detection and intervention in improving the life expectancy of individuals with autism. With the right medical care and support, individuals with autism can lead long, fulfilling lives despite the challenges they face.

Predictors of Mortality in Autism

A topic of concern for parents and caregivers of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is understanding factors that might affect the life expectancy of their loved ones. Specific challenges faced by individuals with autism, such as impairments in social skills and functional challenges, have been identified as significant predictors of mortality.

Social Skills Impairments

Impairments in social reciprocity and communication are among the main challenges faced by individuals with autism. These social skills impairments, particularly when severe in early childhood, have been identified as potential predictors of mortality among individuals with autism [3].

Research has shown that difficulties in social reciprocity, as well as social challenges, contribute significantly to these impairments. Therefore, it's crucial to address these challenges early and provide ongoing support to help individuals with autism develop their social skills, which can potentially extend their life expectancy.

Functional Challenges

Functional challenges refer to difficulties in accomplishing routine tasks or activities of daily living. These challenges can significantly affect the lives of individuals with autism, and limited self-sufficiency in activities of daily living is also a significant predictor of mortality in adults with autism.

Moreover, individuals with autism often struggle to access and receive high-quality care, which can further exacerbate functional challenges and result in significant unmet healthcare needs. These struggles include scheduling logistics, costs and inadequate insurance coverage, transportation barriers, and difficulties communicating and navigating the healthcare system.

Understanding these predictors of mortality in autism is crucial for shaping appropriate interventions and supports. By focusing on improving social skills and functional abilities, as well as addressing co-occurring health conditions, it is possible to improve the quality of life and potentially extend the lifespan of individuals with autism.

Strategies for Prolonging Life Expectancy

When considering the question, "does autism affect life span?", it's important to recognize the role of various strategies that can potentially prolong the life expectancy of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These strategies primarily revolve around early intervention and accessible healthcare services.

Importance of Early Intervention

Research indicates that early identification of ASD and subsequent access to evidence-based interventions can lead to substantial improvements in the lives of individuals with ASD, as well as their families and caregivers.

Interventions and support can play a crucial role in prolonging the life expectancy of individuals with autism. Early intervention strategies that address impairments in social skills and ongoing support throughout an individual's lifespan can enhance self-sufficiency and social engagement, potentially reducing the risk of early mortality.

Access to Healthcare Services

Ensuring adequate access to appropriate healthcare and support systems is essential in improving the overall health and well-being of individuals with autism. However, many autistic adults often struggle to access and receive high-quality care, resulting in significant unmet health care needs [5].

These individuals face barriers such as scheduling logistics, costs and inadequate insurance coverage, transportation barriers, and difficulties communicating and navigating the health care system. Moreover, many autistic adults have differences in language, communication, information processing, and sensory experiences that are not always accommodated in the current health care environment.

Health care clinics and facilities are often noisy and overly bright, and most health care providers have had little if any specific training or education in caring for autistic patients. Autistic adults emphasized the importance of provider knowledge about autism, effective communication, rapport, and individualized care. They also expressed a desire for patient-led decision-making, involvement of caregivers when appropriate, and support with treatment adherence.

The strategies of early intervention and ensuring access to healthcare services are crucial factors in the discussion around ASD and life expectancy. By addressing these areas, we can make significant strides in enhancing the quality and longevity of life for individuals with autism.

Disparities in Health and Care

The impact of autism on the life span is not only determined by the intrinsic factors associated with the condition, but also by the quality of healthcare and services accessible to these individuals.

Unmet Healthcare Needs

Autistic adults often struggle to access and receive high-quality care, resulting in significant unmet health care needs. Barriers such as scheduling logistics, costs and inadequate insurance coverage, transportation difficulties, and challenges in communicating and navigating the health care system all contribute to these disparities.

Furthermore, autistic adults have higher rates of co-occurring health conditions, suicide, and premature mortality. They experience both physical and mental health conditions at higher rates than the general population and are up to nine times more likely to experience suicidal ideation and significantly more likely to attempt or die by suicide than non-autistic adults. These alarming statistics underscore the urgent need for improvements in healthcare delivery for autistic individuals.

Improving Healthcare Experiences

Autistic adults have unique needs and experiences that are not always accommodated in the current health care environment. Many have differences in language, communication, information processing, and sensory experiences. Health care clinics and facilities are often noisy and overly bright, and most health care providers lack specific training or education in caring for autistic patients. These factors can create a stressful and unproductive healthcare experience.

To improve the healthcare experiences, autistic adults have made several recommendations. These include the provision of quiet waiting areas, addressing sensory sensitivities, and allowing more time for appointments to prevent rushed visits and lengthy wait times. They also emphasized the importance of individualized care, effective communication, rapport, and provider knowledge about autism. Furthermore, they expressed a desire for patient-led decision-making and the involvement of caregivers when appropriate.

By addressing these disparities and working towards improving the healthcare system, we can help to create a more inclusive and effective healthcare experience for autistic adults. This, in turn, can have a positive impact on their well-being and life expectancy. The question of 'does autism affect life span' is complex, but by enhancing healthcare access and services for autistic individuals, we can strive to ensure that they live longer, healthier lives.

References

[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693721/

[2]: https://www.thinkingautism.org.uk/addressing-poor-health-high-death-rates-in-autism/

[3]: https://www.discoveryaba.com/aba-therapy/autism-life-span

[4]: https://www.abtaba.com/blog/does-autism-affect-life-span/

[5]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10024270/

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

Table of Contents