Autistic adults are "dying decades before their time", a new study into the condition has found.
According to research conducted in Sweden autistic adults were found to be dying 16 years younger, on average, than members of the general population and those who also suffered from a learning disability died more than 30 years prematurely.
Leading autism charity Autistica described the findings as a "hidden mortality crisis" which showed a "shameful" inequality between those with the disability and those without.
Following the shocking revelations from the Karolinska Institute's research, which looked at the health of 27,000 people with autism, Autistica announced it would be launching a new five-year £10 million research programme to investigate why those with the condition were dying prematurely.
What is autism?
Autism is classed as a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people as well as how they make sense of the world around them.
It is estimated to affect around 1% of the population and impacts on people in different ways as it includes a spectrum of conditions.
According to national data a quarter of sufferers speak few or no words, only 15% will ever work full time, and almost 75% have at least one associated mental health condition.
What reasons does the Swedish study give for premature death?
No defining reason was given for the number of premature deaths amoung autistic adults but epilepsy and suicide did emerge as two possible leading causes.
The study which was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry indicated between 20% and 40% of autism sufferers were afflicted by epilepsy compared with 1% of the general population, however it was unclear why those with epilepsy were dying young.