Autism is costing society $137 billion annually, according to new estimates that suggest a three-fold increase in less than a decade.
The figure comes from preliminary findings of a new analysis of the economic impact of autism. The results of the Autism Speaks-funded study are expected to be presented Saturday at a conference in Hong Kong.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the London School of Economics reviewed multiple studies looking at the costs of education, health care and other needs of those with autism to come up with the new estimates.
They found that lifetime care for an individual with autism who also has intellectual disability runs $2.3 million in the U.S. on average. For those on the spectrum without intellectual disability, they calculated $1.4 million in lifetime expenses.
Based on newly-released prevalence estimates suggesting that autism affects 1 in 88 U.S. children, the researchers found that the developmental disability is costing society $137 billion each year. That’s a significant increase over a 2007 study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine which pegged autism’s yearly impact in the U.S. to be closer to $35 billion.
The majority of the costs associated with autism over the lifetime occur in the adult years, the new analysis suggests. Specifically, funding residential care for those with autism who are often unemployed or underemployed adds up.
“We are paying for the costs of inaction and the costs of ‘inappropriate action,'” said David Mandell of the University of Pennsylvania, who is behind the research. “Social exclusion of individuals with autism and intellectual disability, and exclusion of higher-functioning individuals from employment opportunities are increasing the burden not only on these individuals and their families, but on society as a whole.”