Families coping with a child diagnosed on the autism spectrum are estimated to require an additional $17,081 of financial support. A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics reports that the economic burden associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is substantial and prevalent across multiple sectors of society, including health care, schooling and therapy services.
The researchers aggregated data from a survey of 246 parents from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to estimate the annual utilization and costs for each of these services. The survey included children aged 3 to 17, across income and class levels, in comparison to over 19,000 typically developing children.
ASD was associated with $3,020 higher health care costs and $14,061 higher non-health care costs, which included $8,610 higher school costs.
Additionally, the children with parent-reported ASD had visited doctor’s offices more frequently and had higher prescription drug use compared to children not diagnosed on the autism spectrum. A greater proportion also used special education services.
Surprisingly, parents reported that this did not lead to higher out-of-pocket-costs associated with their child. Some of this may be credited to increased efficacy of autism insurance laws mandating coverage of support services currently in effect in 34 states, including California. Most of the onus, though, is placed on school systems, special education services and other government resources, such as regional centers.
The total annual cost in the U.S. alone in 2011 was estimated to be $11.5 billion.
A 2012 study funded by Autism Speaks found that the estimated total annual cost was $137 billion, but included adults with autism as the reason for the increased spending, due to factors such as housing support and unemployment.
While the results of this study may be affected by the relatively small sample size, it does point to the need for improved resources for early diagnosis and treatment of autism, leading to a greater chance of success in public schooling, potentially reducing the need for additional support services and the subsequent financial burden.
Nonetheless, cost-effective allocation of funds should be spent on the ASD population where necessary, in order to maximize their chances for success in school, as well as in society as a whole.
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