Short Takes On News & Events

Study Puts A Price Tag On Autism

By Jenny Gold

June 9th, 2014, 4:42 PM

Autism exacts a heavy toll on families across the country, but what is the financial cost of the disorder?

Image by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

Now we have an actual price tag:  the lifetime cost of supporting a person with autism ranges from $1.4 million to $2.4 million in the United States, depending on whether the person also has an intellectual disability.

That’s according to a report published by JAMA Pediatrics, based on a literature review of studies on individuals with autism and their families.

Those numbers add up to a total cost of about $66 billion a year for children and  $175 billion a year for adults. About 3.5 million people have autism in the U.S.  For kids, the biggest costs were for early education services and loss of income for their parents. For adults, residential care or living accommodations and loss of individual income were the biggest factors.

David Mandell, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and senior author of the paper, says the costs were much higher than he expected when he began the investigation.

“The only two health conditions I’ve seen with a higher cost estimate are coronary heart disease and cancer,” he said.

The cost of autism in adults is particularly striking. “We talk about autism of a childhood disorder, but the life expectancy of people with autism is about the same as typically developing adults,” said Mandell. “It begs the question – if we provided more effective and intensive early interventions, and we were able to change the trajectory of the disorders, what would that do to our overall lifetime costs?”

He cites residential treatment as another place to save money in the treatment of adults with autism. While it’s important to have high-quality residential options, “often it represents a failure of our society to offer more community-based alternatives to adults with autism,” he adds. “We need to have more creativity and flexibility in helping adults with autism stay in their community.”

As for children with autism, Mandell says more flexible workplace policies that are friendly to parents of children with disabilities such as autism would mean fewer parents would drop out of the workforce. The study found that lost productivity for caregivers of kids with autism was about $18,720 each year.

And as an added bonus, he says, “if we came up with processes that benefited children with autism, they would have substantial effects on all families.”

The study in JAMA Pediatrics was funded by the advocacy group Autism Speaks.

16 Responses to “Study Puts A Price Tag On Autism”

  1. stan says:

    Autism is a term that describes conditions in which a person is removed from social interaction — hence, an isolated self. The key phrase is “removed from social interaction”. So who removes them? Over-indulging parents, that’s who! In the past, parents never over-indulged their children like they do today. In the past, most kids were virtually ignore by parents. In the past, kids were not permitted to speak unless spoken to. In the past, kids found “social interaction” with other kids in the neighborhood or kids at school because they got such little attention at home. Today, you rarely see kids playing without some sort of parental or adult supervision. Every single second of life for a child is mapped out and carefully scrutinized. All of the latent neuroses that parents have accumulated over a lifetime get absorbed by their kids because there’s not a moment in time where they are apart. Kids don’t get a chance to share time with any other human being except their over-indulging and neurotic parents. As a grandparent, I see it first hand. From a mental standpoint, kids would be a lot more healthy if they got to mix it up with other kids and not have their nit-wit parents constantly around them. In my view, unless it’s a very rare organic case, autism in children is caused mostly by over-indulging parents that seem to be on some unexplained guilt trip.

  2. autismepi says:

    This study should be setting off alarm bells everywhere! We need to figure out what is happening to our children!!! At current rates of increase, by 2025, the numbers could be one out of two children! This will bankrupt us!!! Push for research!!! We now know that that ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS are a large part of the puzzle and these have barely been investigated!! If you don’t believe this is a crisis, talk to any educator, in any school district, and ask them about the impact on every child’s education.

  3. Mark Rodgers says:

    Autism being a spectrum disorder with huge variations in cost depending on where the person is on the spectrum and what other physical /behavioral health complexities are present, I question the findings…

  4. killroy71 says:

    Stan – you have issues with your children’s parenting, apparently. Take that elsewhere. Autism shows up before parents have even had a chance to spoil the kids in the way you describe. And in fact, most autistic kids are the very ones OTHER kids do not want to play with, because they are different.

  5. Dave says:

    Stan, your opinions of the causes of autism are irrelevant. I am not saying you are right or wrong because I don’t have the data in front of me to do so, but opinions don’t mean anything when dealing with science. Only data matters. The country would be a lot better off if people would stop throwing around their opinions without backing it up with actual data.

  6. Brent says:

    Stan demonstrates that any ill- informed grampa nit-wit know-it-all can have an opinion. He has obviously never had to watch a child, otherwise developing normally descend into a non-verbal catatonic state as some ASD kids do. Very insulting to the parents trying to cope with these challenges.

  7. Darwin says:

    Stan–Clearly you have no clue what you are talking about. Thanks for your uninformed layman opinion. The people who have actually studied and/or raised autistic children will take it from here.

  8. Lucy says:

    I must agree with Stan. Growing up in the 1950′s and 1960′s, when did you ever hear the word “autism” even mentioned, let alone actually know someone with this malady. Children in my neighborhood had an abundance of social interaction and it rarely included parents. We invented our own social interaction and we had fun doing so. With pickup games and playground activities, I can’t remember any children who were isolated or removed from the neighborhood gang. It has only been recently that the so-called malady called “autism” has gained such outrageous attention. It’s my opinion that children these days are purposely being isolated by over-protective parents. Children these days are not allowed to socialize the way they did in the past. Such isolation keeps children immature and awkward in social settings. No wonder doctors love treating autism. It’s a very lucrative malady. A real healthcare gravy train.

  9. Mr. Youngblood says:

    For those with an open mind and the willingness and the courage to entertain an opposite view about autism, I invite you to do a web search for the words below. I invite you to use you brain instead of listening to those that stand to gain financially by promoting the aggressive treatment of autism…

    “The Dark Scam of Autism”

  10. Brooke says:

    STAN…When have you spent any time with children on the spectrum? There are factors diagnosing kids having autism even before the age of two. Not the age kids would be influenced by the parent behavior you talk about. Please educate yourself. You will be closely related with a child diagnosed with autism in your lifetime.

  11. stan says:

    You can remain in the dark and spin it all you want. My “opinion” has not changed one iota. I see autism as a huge money making scam! Today’s parents are doing everything possible to create incorrigible brats and newly minted autism professionals are popping up at a record pace and cashing in on an opportunity to become very wealthy on something that didn’t exist only a few decades ago. As I see it, today’s proven method of raising children is simple. Spare the rod, spoil the child.

  12. Delores says:

    Please do your research on issues before you speak on issues that affect thousands of families. Your uniformed comments on autism not being around in the 50’s and the 60’s are totally incorrect. I am the sibling of a child diagnosed with autism in 1967 at the age of three. His autism puts him on the severely disabled end of the spectrum. Thankfully, he was placed with therapists and special programs at a young age and has been able to remain at home and continues to attend programming as an adult about to turn 50 years old this year. This diagnosis totally devastated our family and brought on hardships you could never imagine. The costs of 1.4 million to 2.4 million are believable and more and more families are being faced with this reality every day. Our family regards my brother as a “special gift from God” a special child meant for us to love. Now that my parents are gone, he keeps that gift of family alive. Feeling sorry for your lack of understanding or the history of autism and disbelief of the costs. Most of all feeling sorry about your lack of sensitivity on this topic.

    A loving sister

  13. Jane says:

    Plenty of diseases weren’t around in the 50′s and 60′s simply because we didn’t know about them, or know how to correctly diagnose them. Medicine has evolved rapidly in the past 60 years, as has social convention concerning child-rearing. Young children aren’t any less socialized than they were 60 years ago, avenues for socialization are just different. Kids have to be enrolled in organized sports and activities, rather than left to their own devices to socialize and engage. This is as much a function of safety as it is evolving social landscapes: parents have new concerns that may not have been as relevant previously. My kids aren’t allowed to run around our neighborhood because quite frankly, traffic along our street is horrendous, and I’d worry about them getting hit! I doubt the issue was quite the same in 1950. I think it’s a leap to blame decreased socialization and poor parenting for the autism epidemic – there are likely many, many culprits that may (or may not) have been present 60 years ago.

  14. stan says:

    Face the facts…there are no Jonas Salk types in the field of autism. Certainly, the books are not closed regarding the questionable theories about autism. Certainly, the evidence to date is shaky, at best. In my opinion, there are no valid cures for autism to replace good parenting skills. In my opinion, there are merely a hodge-podge of trial and error treatments performed by professionals with questionable motives that continue to make huge sums of money on this newly invented scam. So, because someone does not agree with your half-baked “opinions” and dreamed-up “conclusions” and because someone interprets the (as yet) unproven evidence differently, now those people are “insensitive” and “uninformed”? For certain, the evidence mention so far could not be more absurd!

  15. Martha Moyer says:

    I am a widow and senior citizen with a 40 year old severe son with autism. I have tried to help him live as normally as possible by creating an option for him to live in his own apartment with support assistance (companion care). He also has paralyzed bowels due to institutional neglect. Trying to do this has turned into a nightmare because I am always so worn out trying to keep all of this together. There is so little support for this in Texas. We need to step up and help those of us challenged now with adult autism issues. I do not know how much longer I can continue to run this show without the support needed.. There is no way I can ever retire until the Lord makes me retire at the end.

  16. stan says:

    “There is so little support for this in Texas.”

    Huh? Then why in the world would Texans repeatedly vote for Rick Perry and a Texas state legislature filled with Rick Perry clones? Texans seem to be gluttons for punishment! Texas Republicans don’t care about average citizens needing healthcare. Never have and never will. If you want help, tell your friends and neighbors to start voting for politicians that give some tax advantages to average citizens and not exclusively to Texas oil millionaires. Tell your friends and neighbors to call their Texas state representatives and keep insisting that they pass and enact Medicaid Expansion legislation. Then, the next time you go to the polls to vote, vote against all Republicans on the ballot. You voted these morons in, you can easily vote them out!