The findings provide the first evidence that diagnosed autistic people were more likely to die prematurely in the UK across the time period studied, indicating an urgent need to address inequalities that disproportionately affect autistic people
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A new study led by University College London (UCL) researchers confirms that autistic people experience a reduced life expectancy, however the number of years of life lost may not be as high as previously claimed.
The research, published in The Lancet Regional Health – Europe, is the first to estimate the life expectancy and years of life lost by autistic people living in the UK.
The team used anonymised data from GP practices throughout the UK to study people who received an autism diagnosis between 1989 to 2019.
The researchers found that autistic men without a learning disability had an average estimated life expectancy of 74.6 years, and autistic women without a learning disability, around 76.8 years.
Meanwhile, the estimated life expectancy for people diagnosed with autism and learning disability was around 71.7 years for men and 69.6 years for women.
These figures compare to the usual life expectancy of around 80 years for men and around 83 years for women living in the UK.
“Autism itself does not, to our knowledge, directly reduce life expectancy, but we know that autistic people experience health inequalities, meaning that they often don’t get the support and help that they need when they need it,” said lead investigator of the study, Professor Josh Stott.
The findings provide the first evidence that diagnosed autistic people were more likely to die prematurely in the UK across the time period studied, indicating an urgent need to address inequalities that disproportionately affect autistic people.
However, the new estimates also suggest that the widely reported statistic that autistic people live 16 years less on average is likely to be incorrect.
“Our findings show that some autistic people were dying prematurely, which impacted the overall life expectancy. However, we know that when they have the right support, many autistic people live long, healthy and happy lives,” said Stott.
“We do need to find out why some autistic people are dying prematurely so that we can identify ways to prevent this from happening.”
Some autistic people also have learning disabilities, and can find it hard to explain to others when they are experiencing pain or discomfort. This can mean that health problems go undetected.
“We believe that the findings of this study reflect inequalities that disproportionately affect autistic people,” said joint-lead author Dr Elizabeth O’Nions.
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