Autism Increases Risk of Death From Injury, Especially Drowning Interview with:
Joseph Guan

MPH Candidate in Epidemiology, Certificate in Chronic Diseases Epidemiology
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: The prevalence of autism has been increasing especially in the past two decades. With an estimate of more than 3.5 million people living with autism in the US, approximately 500,000 of them are children under 15 years old. Current studies show that males are approximately four times as likely than females to be diagnosed with autism. There is also evidence that people with autism are at a heightened risk of injury. However, the research on the relationship between autism and injury is understudied.

We found that 28% of deaths in individuals with autism were due to injury, compared to 7% of deaths in the general population. Injury deaths in individuals with autism occurred at a much younger age (29.1 years) on average compared to injury deaths in the general population (54.7 years). Our study show that drowning was the leading cause of injury death among individuals with autism, followed by suffocation and asphyxiation. Children under the age of 15 years were 160 times more likely to die from drowning. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Individuals diagnosed with autism appear to be at a substantially heightened risk for death from injury, particularly for children younger than 15 years. Since drowning is the leading cause of injury death in autistic individuals, it is imperative that parents and caregivers enroll their children in swimming classes. Enrolling children in swimming lessons as soon as the diagnosis is made will substantially help reduce this exceptionally high risk of drowning. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We need to develop and implement programs to prevent or reduce the risk of injury, especially drowning, suffocation, and asphyxiation, must be implemented. We need to look into how these individuals are for example getting to bodies of water without being attended to and how to prevent that from happening. I would also encourage clinicians and/or other social workers to recommend and teach parents and caretakers of autistic individuals to be more attentive in order to prevent such injuries and possibly other injuries from occurring. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Joseph Guan and Guohua Li. (2017). Injury Mortality in Individuals With Autism. American Journal of Public Health. e-View Ahead of Print.
doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.303696

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on March 22, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD