The Annual Cost of Autism

May 31, 2012


By Lisa Ackerman

In May, new figures were released highlighting a huge increase in the annual costs of autism which have soared to $137 billion a year (1). This represents a three-fold increase within the last decade.

If you ask “who pays for autism?” my answer would be everyone. We know many families living with autism are carrying much of these costs.  They put a second mortgage on their home, sell their home to move into an apartment or with relatives, take out multiple credit cards, borrow from family members, and often one parent ends up taking a second job to help make ends meet.  Some families have opted to double-up households with two families living together sharing expenses so they can put most of their housing funds into their children’s needs.

A recent TACA membership survey where almost 2,000 families participated indicated how much they are spending for autism-related costs for their children. We found that an average of $27,000 was being spent per family yearly resulting in over $50,000,000 in annual out of pocket expenses. Some of these families were spending more than their annual take-home pay for basic services like behavioral and speech therapies.

It is important to note that an estimated 80% of those living with autism are ages 22 years or younger. We don’t have enough data to calculate the lifetime costs of autism. Based on what we know today, it is estimated that these costs are $3-5 million per affected individual.  Sadly, with articles highlighting the tripling of costs, we don’t see this trend slowing down anytime soon.

With the recent downturn in the economy, special needs families are being hit hard; support services are drying up. Assistance for families is dwindling while the pool for those needing help is soaring. Supporting families living with autism has become harder. At TACA, we have fewer tools to assist these families than we had just a few years ago.

Here is an excerpt from a recent article featured in the Disability Scoop online news site highlighting the soaring costs of autism:

“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.”

At TACA, we agree. What can’t be measured is the hardship endured by families and individuals living with autism. Those costs are much higher.