Autism Costs Average $17,000 Yearly for Each Child
School systems bear the brunt, not parents, researchers find
By Amy Norton
MONDAY, Feb. 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The cost of services for children with autism averages more than $17,000 per child each year -- with school systems footing much of the bill, a new U.S. study estimates.
Researchers found that compared to kids without autism, those with the disorder had higher costs for doctor visits and prescriptions -- an extra $3,000 a year, on average.
But the biggest expenses were outside the medical realm. "Non-health care" services averaged $14,000 per child, and special education at school accounted for more than 60 percent of those costs.
Past studies into the costs of autism have mainly focused on health care, said Tara Lavelle, a researcher at RAND Corp. in Arlington, Va., who led the new study published online Feb. 10 and in the March print issue of Pediatrics.
These findings, she said, give a more comprehensive view. Her team estimates that services for children with autism cost the United States $11.5 billion in 2011 alone.
"The societal cost is enormous," said Michael Rosanoff, associate director of public health research and scientific review for Autism Speaks, a New York City-based advocacy group.
And the dollar estimates from this study cover only children with autism -- not adults, noted Rosanoff, who was not involved in the research.
He said the findings do give a clearer idea of the costs to school systems, in particular. Now more work is needed to "dig deeper" into the issue, Rosanoff said. Some big questions, he noted, are whether school districts have the resources to handle the needs of all students with autism, and whether individual children are being well served.
In the United States, about one in every 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The developmental disorders vary widely in severity. Some kids have "classic" autism, speaking very little, and showing repetitive, unusual behaviors like hand flapping; they may also be intellectually impaired. Other kids have average or above-average intelligence, but have difficulty with social interaction.