The cost of supporting people with autism spectrum disorder over the course of their lifetimes can cost as much as $2.4 million in the United States, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
For the study, researchers reviewed medical literature on the costs related to autism. The researchers said that while most prior research had focused on individual areas, their study aimed to incorporate other factors, including societal costs, productivity, and indirect expenses.
Overall, the study found that supporting a U.S. resident with autism and an intellectual disability would cost about $2.4 million, largely because of costs associated with special education and lost productivity among parents. According to the study, the cost of supporting a U.S. resident with autism who does not have intellectual disability would be about $1.4 million.
Lead author David Mandell told Kaiser Health News' Jenny Gold that the costs were much higher than he expected.
"The only two health conditions I've seen with a higher cost estimate are coronary heart disease and cancer," Mandell said, adding that more flexible workplace policies for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders could prevent them from dropping out of the workforce. Through the study, researchers found lost productivity for caregivers totaled about $18,720, on average, per year.
The cost of autism in adults was even greater, Mandell says.
"We talk about autism of a childhood disorder, but the life expectancy of people with autism is about the same as typically developing adults," says Mandell. He adds, "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?" (Attias, CQ Roll Call, 6/9 [subscription required]; Weintraub, USA Today, 6/9; Seaman, Reuters, 6/9; Gold, "Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 6/9).