Children with autism at heightened risk for drowning, other injury-related death: study

New York – Children with autism may face a significantly higher risk of injury-related death, particularly from drowning, according to a recent study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Using the National Vital Statistics System, researchers analyzed more than 32 million death certificates and found that 1,367 autistic individuals died from 1999 to 2014. Children with autism were shown to be 160 times more likely to die from drowning than the general pediatric population, the study reported.

“Given the exceptionally heightened risk of drowning for children with autism, swimming classes should be the intervention of top priority,” senior author Guohua Li, Mailman School professor of epidemiology, said in a March 21 press release. “Once a child is diagnosed with autism, usually between 2 and 3 years of age, pediatricians and parents should immediately help enroll the child in swimming classes, before any behavioral therapy, speech therapy, or occupational therapy. Swimming ability for kids with autism is an imperative survival skill.”

Other findings:

  • Annual documented deaths among individuals with autism increased by nearly 7 times from 1999 to 2014.
  • Suffocation, asphyxiation and drowning accounted for nearly 80 percent of total injury mortality in children. More than 40 percent of these deaths occurred in homes or residential institutions.

“While earlier research reported a higher mortality rate overall for individuals with autism, until now injury mortality in the autism spectrum disorder population had been understudied,” Li said in the release. “Despite the marked increase in the annual number of deaths occurring, autism-related deaths still may be severely underreported, particularly deaths from intentional injury such as assaults, homicide, and suicide.”

The study was published online March 21 in the American Journal of Public Health.

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