Autism Has High Costs to U.S. Society
It can cost about $3.2 million to take care of an autistic person over his or her lifetime. Caring for all people with autism over their lifetimes costs an estimated $35 billion per year. Those figures are part of the findings in the first study to comprehensively survey and document the costs of autism to U.S. society. Michael Ganz, Assistant Professor of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard School of Public Health, authored the study, which appears in a chapter titled, "The Costs of Autism," in the newly published book, Understanding Autism: From Basic Neuroscience to Treatment (CRC Press, 2006). Ganz hopes his research will help policymakers allocate scarce resources to its treatment and prevention as well as provide a useful reference for policymakers and advocates to help them more fully understand the financial impact of autism on U.S. society.
Ganz's analysis of the costs includes direct and indirect medical costs associated with the disorder. But he believes the $35 billion annual societal cost for caring for and treating people with autism likely underestimates the true costs because there are a number of other services that are used to support individuals with autism, such as alternative therapies and other family out-of-pocket expenses, that are difficult to measure. In addition, Ganz believes that the level of cost could be higher if there were more useful and widespread treatment options available. "Given that the federal autism research budget has been historically less than $100 million per year and given that research budgets for other conditions with similar numbers of affected individuals are sometimes orders of magnitude higher, I hope that my research can help focus more attention on directing more resources toward finding prevention and treatment options for autism," Ganz said. (For comparison purposes, he notes estimated annual costs of other conditions, including Alzheimer's disease ($91 billion); mental retardation ($51 billion); anxiety ($47 billion); and schizophrenia ($33 billion).)
Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) that involves severe deficits in a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. Children with autism often have trouble using their imagination, have a limited range of interests, and may show repetitive patterns of behavior or body movements. The disorder is often associated with some degree of mental retardation. Autism is the most prevalent PDD and the most common of all serious childhood disorders. It affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans and is increasing at a rate of 10-17 percent each year. It is four times more common in boys than in girls. The exact cause of autism is not known and there is currently no cure for the disorder.