By Shaun Heasley
February 10, 2014
Substantial costs come along with an autism diagnosis, researchers say in a new study that attempts to put a price tag on the care needed by children with the developmental disorder.
When factoring expenses for health care, schooling, caregiving, therapy and similar family-coordinated services, a study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics suggests that an autism diagnosis brings an annual cost of $17,081 per child.
For the study, researchers surveyed more than 200 parents and looked at data from the federal government’s Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and National Health Interview Survey. They compared the cost of care for kids with autism ages 3 to 17 to expenses for typically-developing children.
Health care expenses for those with autism were about $3,000 higher than for other children, the study found. But it was school-related costs that packed the biggest punch, adding over $8,600 per year.
Nationally, with 673,000 kids estimated to be on the autism spectrum, the researchers said that the cost of caring for this group in 2011 likely totaled $11.5 billion in the U.S. alone.
A 2012 study found that autism costs total $137 billion annually, but indicated that adults account for the majority of spending since they require housing and are often unemployed or underemployed. The current study focused exclusively on children.
Despite the hefty price tag, parents of kids with autism did not report significantly higher out-of-pocket costs, the study found. Rather, the expense is largely borne by society through special education services and other offerings.
“There is a large economic burden associated with caring for a child with ASD,” wrote researchers from Harvard University, Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Michigan in the study. “These costs have been under-recognized.”
“Comprehensive policies are needed to ensure that funds are allocated to meet the needs of this population, and future cost-effectiveness analyses should inform how these funds are spent to ensure the best possible outcomes for children with ASD,” they added.