The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics on Monday and funded by the nonprofit Autism Speaks, suggests that autism's financial toll on individuals, families and society as a whole is "much higher than previously suggested," its authors write, and includes direct medical, educational and residential costs, as well as indirect costs such as lost wages.
"We took all of the data we could find that had been published on costs and synthesized it to come up with an estimate," researcher David Mandell, director of the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Huffington Post.
"The lifetime cost of individuals with ASD and no intellectual disabilities was $1.4 million -- and that's in addition to the costs that would accrue with a typically-developing child," Mandell said. "It's $2.4 million for individuals with intellectual disabilities." (According to estimates cited in the report, between 40 and 60 percent of people with autism spectrum disorders also have an intellectual disability, characterized by limitations in intellectual function and adaptive behaviors, including social and practical skills.)
On average, the cost for children with autism and an intellectual disability in the U.S. was more than $107,800 per year up to age 5, and roughly $85,600 per year between ages 6 and 17. Among children with no diagnosed intellectual disabilities, the associated costs were lower: approximately $63,290 per year for those 5 and under, and $52,205 per year for those between 6 and 17.
The top average annual cost was special education, followed by parents' productivity losses and medical expenses, including inpatient, outpatient, emergency, home health care, pharmacy and out-of-pocket costs.
"I was surprised that the second-highest cost in childhood was lost wages for parents leaving work to care for children with autism," said Mandell. "Normally, when we look at expenses, we're looking at system-level expenses, education costs ... We're so rarely looking at more indirect costs."
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