Measuring Autistic Traits in Adults Who Have Attempted Suicide

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 12, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
G. Richards1,2, R. Kenny3, S. A. Cassidy1,4, S. Griffiths3, C. Allison1, D. Mosse5, R. Holt3 and S. Baron-Cohen1,6, (1)Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, (2)NIHR CLAHRC East of England, Cambridge, United Kingdom, (3)University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, (4)School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom, (5)Department of Anthropology and Sociology, SOAS University of London, London, United Kingdom, (6)CLASS Clinic, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough NHS Trust, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Background: Previous research suggests that adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) have increased risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours, and of dying by suicide. However, few studies have investigated the possible role of autistic traits in suicidal behaviour.

Objectives: To quantitatively measure autistic traits in adults who have attempted suicide, and to compare the findings with those reported in the general population.

Methods: An online questionnaire was advertised on suicide prevention websites, a psychology research participant database, and social media. Autistic traits were measured using the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). 245 people accessed the survey, 168 of whom completed the AQ. Of these, 132 specified that they had attempted suicide. AQ scores for these participants were then compared to general population means published by Baron-Cohen et al. (2014).

Results: To determine that any effects observed were not driven by an overrepresentation of people with autism, those with diagnosed or suspected autism were removed from the analysis. After this, it was found that 40.6% of adults who had attempted suicide had an AQ score of 26 or above, which is a cut-off indicating potential clinical significance. AQ scores in this group (M = 22.45, SD = 8.67) were significantly higher than those of women (M = 17.1, SD = 7.6; t[2658] = 6.8, p < 0.001) and men (M = 20.3, SD = 7.8; t[1440] = 2.61, p = 0.009) from the general population. AQ scores were also significantly higher in adults who had attempted suicide more than once (M = 24.22, SD = 8.26) compared to adults who had attempted suicide on one occasion (M = 19.09, SD = 8.67), t(90) = -2.808, p = 0.006.

Conclusions: The current findings add to a growing literature that suggests elevated autistic traits are related to the likelihood of experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours. A better understanding of this area is urgently required to help reduce suicide risk in people with and without a diagnosis of autism.