Autism is a brain developmental disorder that generally manifests in the first few years of life. It affects communication and social interaction and leads to a limited range of behavior, often involving repetition. The term autism is generally applied to severely affected children; milder forms include autism spectrum disorders such as Asperger syndrome.

To our knowledge, the only large study of life expectancy that uses appropriate statistical methods is reference 1 below. Most children with autism retain fairly good gross motor function, including the ability to walk. When attention was restricted to these children, it was found that there was some reduction in life expectancy but this was relatively modest for those except for those with severe cognitive impairment.

The cited study1 showed that, for reasons that are not clear, the reduction from normal was larger for females than for males. Causes of death that are elevated in this population seizures and accidents such as suffocation. Among those with severe cognitive impairment there was an increased risk of death from respiratory causes.2,3


  1. Shavelle RM, Strauss DJ (1998). Comparative mortality of persons with Autism in California, 1980-1996. Journal Of Insurance Medicine, 30:220-225.
  2. Shavelle RM, Strauss DJ, Pickett J (2001). Causes of death in autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31:569-576.
  3. Picket JA, Paculdo DR, Shavelle RM, Strauss DJ (2006). 1998-2002 update on causes of death in autism [letter]. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36:287-288.

[The studies referenced above are available on the articles page. Cause of death codes from the 2001 study are available here.]