IF YOUR CHILD IS SUICIDAL
The sense of powerlessness and stress can be overwhelming
for parents if their child is on the autism spectrum and feeling
suicidal — this can be a daunting time when your child finds existence
so painful that suicide appears to be an increasingly rational decision.
An important part of coping during this time is to have some understanding
of the issues involved. Depression
is such a common outcome for children with autism
syndrome as they get older. Difficulties with fitting in with
others often leads to negative feelings that may spiral out of control
toward suicidal thoughts.
The warning signs
Parents are the people most likely to notice signs
of a mental illness or emotional disorder in their child. The signs
can be difficult to pick, as many could resemble the effects of
having an Autism Spectrum Disorder in the first place. These may
• A drop in school performance
• Rigidity in thinking and behavior
• Unwarranted worry or anxiety
• Inability to cope with day-to-day problems
• Changes in sleeping or eating habits
• Aggression (verbal or physical) towards others
• Excessive fear – for example, fear of getting fat, or of not being
• Feelings of persecution, paranoia
• Recurrent nightmares
• Seeing, hearing or experiencing things that are not there
• Depression (hopelessness, uncontrollable crying, apathy, sadness)
• Difficulty ‘getting going’
• Social withdrawal.
What to do
If you’re worried about your child’s emotional
health or suspect a mental illness, it’s useful to consult a health
professional — preferably someone who understands the Autism Spectrum Disorders and its effects on your child, and preferably someone
you’ve worked well with before. Together you could first try some
strategies to deal with the problem. Your child’s response will
provide useful information.
Refusing to go to school may reflect relatively mild anxiety that
could be helped changing the child’s school environment, or by using
carefully chosen strategies to change the child’s behavior. Remember
too, that bullying of children on the autism spectrum is common,
and create much anxiety and depression for the child if not addressed
If anxiety is severe – for example, if the child
is having panic attacks – medication
may be necessary. Treatment for mental health issues has improved
vastly over recent years. Medication can usually reduce symptoms,
and a range of psychological, behavioral and social therapies help
people to address the problems in their lives and learn healthy
ways of coping and behaving.
If the problem continues
If the young person’s problems continue, try to
see a mental health professional with experience of both Autism Spectrum Disorders and young people (ask about their experience).
If you can’t find someone with these skills, make sure the mental
health professional knows your child’s history. Mental health professionals
include psychiatrists and psychologists.
Autism Spectrum Disorder specialists and mental health specialists
must coordinate their care, as treatment needs to take account of
both conditions. For example, the dose of medications for mental
illness may need to be adjusted for a person on the autism spectrum.
Good case management can help to ensure that services are coordinated
and the right treatment identified. Often, though, parents have
to be the ‘go between’ to make sure information is shared.
See the Family
and Carer issues section of the website for more information
on parenting issues.
Click here for the full
range of Asperger's and autism fact sheets at www.autism-help.org
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