NOTE: I originally wrote this essay in response to a question on Quora.
This is an interesting question which surprised me the first time I heard it. Does a person who has autism or Asperger’s life a shorter life than a person without it? Does the diagnosis matter to life span?
You might think that a diagnosis of autism or Asperger’s wouldn’t have any relationship at all with overall life expectancy. After all, the challenges with Asperger’s and autism generally involve the functionality of the brain. Primary traits include issues such as the ability to interact with others or issues with sensory overload. In comparison, the ways in which people tend to die tend to involve problems with their heart, their lungs, their immune system, or so on.
However, study after study finds that the way we interact with others impacts our ability to live long, healthy lives. Think of all the studies that explore how being married helps you live longer because you have that support. studies indicate that having a network of good friends can help a person to live longer.
Now think about autism and Asperger’s. Many of my friends and family members are on the autism Asperger’s spectrum. It impacts the way they can form bonds with others. With how they socialize with others. Several of my Asperger’s friends have never been married. Others have cheated on spouse after spouse. Think of the toll those situations have on a person. It leads to higher rates of depression. Of suicide.
Also, it is far more likely that a male has Asperger’s than a female. Males already have shorter lifepspans than females do. So just by definition, if you have Asperger’s, you’re going to have a shorter lifespan than average. Add in the depression, the social challenges, and so on, and it all can add up.
Now, on the other hand, people with Asperger’s tend to be more intelligent than normal. That means they SHOULD be better about eating well, exercising well, etc. But as a member of Mensa and knowing many smart people, knowing something and doing it properly are two different things. It sometimes means you are better making excuses than most.
Just one study:
“The report included a study by Sweden’s Karolina Institute showing that, on average, autistic adults die 16 years younger than members of the general population. Those who also had a learning disability died more than 30 years prematurely, at an average age of just 39.”