People with a higher genetic likelihood of autism are more likely to report higher childhood maltreatment, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, according to a new study by an Indian-origin researcher.
The study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, shows that the findings hold true even for those with a higher genetic likelihood of autism rather than a formal diagnosis. Previous studies from the University of Cambridge established that autistic individuals experience higher levels of self-harm, including suicidal thoughts and feelings, and higher rates of childhood maltreatment.
"This new study extends our earlier work by showing that individuals who carry more of the genes associated with autism have higher risks for maltreatment and self-harm," said study researcher Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor at University of Cambridge.
"Our work highlighting unacceptably higher rates of suicide in autistic people was published 5 years ago, yet almost no new support has been provided," Baron-Cohen added.
For the study, the research team calculated the genetic likelihood for autism in 100,000 individuals from the UK Biobank Study who had their DNA analysed and had also provided self-reported information about childhood maltreatment, suicidal ideation and self-harm.
Those with the highest genetic predisposition to autism on an average have 28 per cent increase in childhood maltreatment and a 33 per cent increase in self-harm and suicidal ideation compared to those with the lowest genetic predisposition to autism.
"While we have found an association between a genetic likelihood for autism and adverse life events, we cannot conclude the former causes the latter," said study lead author and Indian-origin researcher Varun Warrier.
"We suspect this association reflects that genes partly influence how many autistic traits you have, and some autistic traits such as difficulties in social understanding may lead to a person to be vulnerable to maltreatment, Warrier added. This research highlights the risks of such adverse outcomes for those with a high number of autistic traits, if adequate safeguarding and support aren''t provided.