FRIDAY, May 6, 2022 (HealthDay News) — The risk for presenting to a hospital emergency department with self-harm is increased for boys with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) versus boys without ASD, according to a study published online April 29 in BMC Medicine.

Emily Widnall, from King’s College London, and colleagues examined whether adolescents with ASD have a higher risk than the general population for presenting to emergency care with self-harm. The analysis included London students (aged 11 to 17 years; January 2009 to March 2013).

The researchers found that during the study period, 1,020 adolescents presented to the emergency department with self-harm. The sample for analysis included 113,286 adolescents, of whom 2.2 percent had ASD. There was an increased risk seen for self-harm associated with ASD for boys only (adjusted hazard ratio, 2.79). Additional factors associated with a higher risk for self-harm included school absence, exclusion from school, and having been in foster care.

“We know that autistic adults have higher rates of premature death, including increased rates of suicide. Self-harming behaviors, like those explored in the present study, may be the precursor to more serious suicide attempts, so early identification and proactive intervention when self-harm first appears is very important,” a coauthor said in a statement. “Autistic people often have more difficulty regulating their emotions, which can contribute to high levels of distress and, because of the communication impairments experienced by many autistic people, professionals may not appreciate the level of distress they are experiencing and the seriousness of these behaviors.”

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