Autism Costs Top $2 Million Over Patient’s Life, Researchers Say

Jun 10, 2014 12:01 am ET

June 10 (Bloomberg) -- The cost of caring for a individual with autism may exceed $2 million over a lifetime, on top of the average $250,000 to raise a child today, with most of the expense occurring in adulthood, researchers said.

Expenses for each autistic person with an intellectual disability may be $2.4 million in the U.S. and $2.2 million in the U.K., largely driven by the costs of residential care, special education and reduced employment prospects. For those who don’t have an intellectual disability, costs are estimated to be about $1.4 million per person in both countries, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

More than 3.5 million Americans are estimated to have autism, while in the U.K., more than 604,000 have the disorder, the authors said. The findings released yesterday from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the London School of Economics and Political Science, look beyond age 18 to include the costs of a potential lifelong disability.

“We need to support families in planning for the long-term existence and happiness of their adult children with autism,” David Mandell, a study author and director of the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said in a telephone interview.

Children and adults with autism may be unresponsive to people, become indifferent to social activity and have communication difficulties. They may also have an intellectual disability that can lead to a lack of skills necessary for daily living.

Behavioral Therapies

There is no cure for autism. Treatments for children with the disorder involve behavioral therapies designed to improve learning, communication and social skills, as well as medications or a combination of the approaches.

Mandell said more research is needed to determine if there are ways to reduce these lifetime costs by providing early intervention to children with autism, providing more community living options, putting in place more workplace policies to support parents of children with disabilities and providing jobs to people with autism to help reduce the portion of the expenses related to lost wages.

Researchers reviewed U.S. and U.K. studies on patients with autism and their families to examine costs. They found that the national cost of supporting children with autism is estimated to be $61 billion to $66 billion a year in the U.S. and $4.5 billion to $5 billion a year in the U.K., depending on how many people it was projected had an intellectual disability. For autistic adults, the costs were $175 billion to $196 billion a year in the U.S. and $43 billion to $46 billion a year in the U.K.

Lost Employment

In the U.S., most of these costs were for services such as special education and residential care, while in the U.K. it was for services and lost employment by people with autism, the paper said.

“While most of the cost is born by government in the form of special education, it’s also true that families bear costs as well,” said Paul Shattuck, who wrote an accompanying editorial. More studies are needed of adults with autism and better ways to join with businesses to hire more adults with special needs, Shattuck, an associate professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said in a telephone interview.

The research was funded by Autism Speaks, an advocacy group based in New York.