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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Autism's Costs Can Run Into Millions for 1 Person

Lost wages, residential care and special education are just some of the driving factors, study finds


By comparison, special education for children with autism costs one-and-a-half to nearly five times as much as their medical care. Costs for special education run between $13,980 and $62,920 a year, again depending on age and intellectual disability, the study found.

Parents' lost wages cost an average $18,720 annually for the care of a child with autism, outpacing medical expenses. "Mothers drop out of the workforce to care for their children with autism, and those wages are substantial," Mandell said.

Residential care is the largest average expense for adults with autism, costing between $18,080 and $36,161 annually -- more than twice the amount spent on medical care. Lost wages for adults with autism cost about $10,718 a year, the study authors said.

The numbers for both children and adults suggest that "there's a very high expense of not properly caring for children with autism," Mandell said.

"If we were able to provide better and more appropriate care for these children, mothers wouldn't be dropping out of the workforce," he said. "We also really need very different workplace policies that support the parents of children with disabilities."

The adult costs of autism could reflect a failure to properly prepare children with autism for their entry into the wider world, Mandell said. With better education and training, these children might be able to live outside residential facilities and hold steady jobs.

"That's the $2.4 million question, isn't it? If we provided better early intervention, would we then see a different trajectory that would result in reduced costs for adults with autism?" Mandell said. "Our study doesn't answer that, but it needs to be answered."

Rosanoff noted that as astronomical as these figures are, the true cost is likely greater. Researchers prepared the study based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's estimate of autism prevalence, which was 1 in 88 people.

But two months ago the CDC revised its estimate, and now figures that 1 in 68 people have autism, he said.

"The numbers in this report are an underestimate of the true cost of autism in society, at least in the U.S.," Rosanoff said.

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