Intensive early intervention for kids with autism can be extremely costly, but new research finds that such treatment can pay for itself in short order.

Children who participated in the Early Start Denver Model — an evidence-based treatment for autism — saw the cost of treatment offset in as little as two years, according to findings published recently in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The study relied on data from 48 children with autism between the ages of 18 and 30 months. The kids either took part in the Early Start Denver Model — a specialized two-year program where parents and therapists work together to administer a play-based approach designed to improve development — or they received typical community-based treatment.

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Those in the Early Start Denver Model program had health costs that were about $14,000 higher annually than the children who received standard care while they were involved in the intervention.

But, in the two years after the intervention concluded, children who were part of the specialized program used less occupational, physical and speech therapy and fewer intervention services leading to $19,000 in cost savings per year for each child, the study found.

The researchers said they believe that those in the Early Start Denver Model group relied on fewer services because of the developmental gains they made during the intervention.

“Prior studies have found that community-based early intervention costs between $40,000 and $80,000 per year,” said Zuleyha Cidav of the University of Pennsylvania, the study’s lead author. “We found that the high-quality, university-based early intervention delivered in this study costs about $45,580. This suggests that the issue is not how much we spend on early intervention, but rather how we use that money most effectively to scale up such interventions so that they are effective in community settings.”

Cidav said the researchers hope to further examine the economic impact of early intervention and identify whether or not cost savings continue as children go through their school years and enter adulthood.