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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
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07 Mar 2023, 2:17 pm

Opinion: People who need people: Leveraging desire for connection to address suicide in autism
Evan Kleiman is assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. Annabelle Mournet is a graduate student in clinical psychology at the university.

Substantial evidence shows that autistic adults are at an elevated risk for suicide. Being socially connected helps protect against suicidal thoughts and behaviors in the general population but has been overlooked as a protective factor for autistic people. This is likely due to the unfortunate misconception that autistic people are uninterested in social interaction — an idea known as the social motivation theory of autism.

The social motivation theory lacks empirical support. Recent findings from our lab, from a study of 100 autistic adults and 100 non-autistic adults, suggest that autistic adults actually have greater levels of desire and motivation to connect with others than do non-autistic adults. Autistic adults also have a similar number of social connections as non-autistic adults, according to a 2021 study of 184 people who self-reported an autism diagnosis. And more than three-quarters of those study participants report feelings of social identification with at least one social group.

In other words, the social motivation theory likely does not apply to most autistic people, let alone all of them.

Our field must work to dismantle these damaging and inaccurate notions and develop suicide interventions that promote social connection for autistic people. Such connections could protect against suicide among autistic people. There are a variety of existing interventions designed to improve social connection that could be adapted for autistic populations.

easons other than social motivation could explain why autistic adults sometimes experience a lack of social connection and isolation. They may have the same range of desire to connect with others as their non-autistic peers but display it differently — such that others do not always recognize their attempts. For example, non-autistic people interpret autistic people’s diminished eye contact as a sign of social disinterest, a 2010 study suggests.

Also, many autistic people may be highly motivated to connect, yet they often face social rejection. According to a 2020 editorial, non-autistic people’s misconceptions about autistic people’s motivations and preferences for social connection are stigmatizing and often lead non-autistic people to overlook the barriers that prevent autistic people from pursuing their desire for social connection. The isolation autistic people face is likely not a result of self-preference but of self-protection, given experiences of bullying, harassment, rejection and even abuse.

Participatory research that builds on the voices and work of autistic adults can help to clarify the factors that affect autistic adults’ motivation to socially connect. Such research could also help the field better address their social needs.

By inaccurately assuming that autistic people are less interested in connecting with others, researchers are diverted away from studying social connection as an important measure to prevent suicide among autistic adults. The misdirection is especially unfortunate given that suicide prevention is all the more pressing for this population.

Accordingly, we must continue to deconstruct the misconception that autistic adults lack a desire for social connection. Rather, we ought to leverage their considerable desire for social connection to develop suicide interventions that promote social connection.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


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Joined: 2 May 2019
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10 Mar 2023, 9:33 am

This article is one big “duh!”

When anti-vaxxers get in my face, I say ... Have a Nice Day!


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10 Mar 2023, 11:28 am

Much of the article goes over old ground. A lot of the time autistic people are not anti social just our brains don't always function in a way that allows us to be.

Try to be the life and soul of the party when words and thoughts are blocked and when suffering from crippling anxiety.

Obviously some autisms make people want to avoid social contact all together but everyone trying to say we don't want social contact is not true.

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends upon the unreasonable man."

- George Bernie Shaw


Joined: 31 Mar 2022
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10 Mar 2023, 12:01 pm

I can understand how it was misconstrued because we get the occasional thread saying that the person desires no social contact whatsoever.

I suppose the answer is more aspie social groups

Blue Jay
Blue Jay

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12 Mar 2023, 12:16 pm

Considering that there has been a rise in what Deaton has called deaths of despair among every demographic in countries like the US, I can believe it. More of this sort of material please.