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The Soaring Cost of Autism

As any parent of a child with autism can attest, autism is an extremely expensive condition to care for, requiring regular visits to specialists alongside medical services, special education, and many other expenses. And as the number of cases of diagnosed autism continues to skyrocket, there has been an increased amount of legislation at the state level allocating funds to families to help offset what can be a crippling expense.

Since each individual with autism is unique and his or her treatment plan is unique to the person, the cost of treating the entire sector of U.S. population with autism has eluded experts and politicians, which in turn has stifled investments into further research into the cause of and potential treatments for autism.

However, this might all soon change due to a groundbreaking study conducted by a group of health economists based at the University of California, Davis looking to project the current and future cost of caring for people with autism. The researchers calculated the cost for the current calendar year and projected where the costs will be in ten year if effective interventions and preventative treatments are not identified and made available to those in need.

The researchers estimated that for medical, non-medical, and productivity losses associated with the disorder, autism will cost $268 billion for 2015 and $461 billion for 2025. But the researchers said these projections are conservative and if prevalence of autism continues to increase at current rates, the costs could reach $1 trillion in the next decade.

“The current costs of ASD are more than double the combined costs of stroke and hypertension and on a par with the costs of diabetes” said study senior author Paul Leigh in a statement. “There should be at least as much public, research and government attention to finding the causes and best treatments for ASD as there is for these other major diseases.”

In calculating the cost of autism treatment, the study authors used data from various sources that included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and medical research to determine the per-person costs of autism. The total costs that they found included residential care, special education, medical services, in-home care, employment support, transportation, and lost productivity. The authors also took age into account as an individual’s autism-related care tends to fluctuate over time.

To offset the towering cost that governments and families will expend in treating autism, the researchers emphasized the need for increased funding into the causes of and potential treatment for autism, suggesting that the National Institutes of Health invest an equal amount as they do into diabetes.

In concluding their findings, the authors stated “We need more funding for research to understand the causes of, and develop treatments for ASD. We also need to ensure that all children have access to intensive early intervention; that school-based interventions to support academics, as well as social and language skills, are adequately funded; and that supports are put in place to ensure better post-secondary and vocational options for adults. Investing in these areas, I believe, will actually reduce the costs to society.”

Researchers are helping that their dire findings will in turn spur governments at the local and national level to make the necessary investments in autism research now to offset the costs of the future.