Tallying the Costs for Autism

Autism in children required additional costs for educational and health services

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A variety of physical, mental or developmental conditions in children may require additional care or services. Autism is one such condition.

A recent study found that the costs of caring for a child with autism totaled about $17,000 more than those for a child without autism.

However, parents of children with autism did not appear to be spending more money or time themselves in caring for their children.

The costs mainly appeared to be related to healthcare, educational and community services.

"Talk to a pediatrician about the needs of your child with autism."

This study, led by Tara A. Lavelle, PhD, of the Healthy Policy department at Harvard University, attempted to estimate the total costs associated with caring for children with autism spectrum disorders.

The study took into account all the expenses associated with use of services, parents' or caregivers' time and overall costs for related reasons.

The services tallied up in the costs included health care, school services, therapy related to the disorder and family services for children with autism aged 3 to 17.

The researchers used data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the National Health Interview Survey and a survey designed specifically for this study to try to accurately capture all costs.

The survey data came from 18,884 children, of whom 109 had autism spectrum disorders while the others did not.

The researchers found that children with autism used more health care and prescription medications than the children without autism.

In addition, 76 percent of children with autism used special education services at schools, compared to 7 percent of the children without autism.

The analysis also included adjustments to take into account differences across families in terms of the child's age, sex, race/ethnicity, insurance status, household income, geographical region in the US, illnesses unrelated to autism and urban or rural location.

After these adjustments, the researchers determined that children with autism had $3,020 higher health care costs than those without autism.

An additional $14,000 was spent on non-health care costs for children with autism above what children without autism required, including an additional $8,600 on school-related costs for those with autism.

Therefore, the overall additional cost in health care, services and caregiving for children with autism was approximately $17,000 more than what would be needed for children without autism.

However, this higher cost appeared to be borne outside the home.

After the researchers made adjustments to account for differences among the families, they did not find that the parents of children with autism were spending more out-of-pocket on their children, or spending more time caring for their children, than parents of children without autism.

The costs, then, appeared to exist primarily in educational, healthcare and other societal systems.

Adam Powell, PhD, a health economist and President of Payer+Provider Syndicate, pointed out that different levels of cost are likely to exist at differing levels of severity in a child's autism diagnosis.

"While this study did not find that the average child with ASD is significantly associated with higher out-of-pocket costs compared to a child without ASD, there was a significant association between autism and out-of-pocket costs for the children with the most severe autism," Dr. Powell said.

"It should be further noted that out-of-pocket costs were shown to rise with severity, although the relationships were not always significant," he said.

Part of the study's limitations, he noted, included the small sample size of the children involved.

"Given the direction of the insignificant findings and the fact that only 137 families with autism were surveyed, it is possible that a larger study might find a significant relationship between average cases of ASD and out-of-pocket spending," Dr. Powell said.

This study was published February 10 in the journal Pediatrics. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, Harvard University, Boston Children’s Hospital, the National Institute for Nursing Research and the Nancy Lurie Marks Foundation.

Review Date: 
February 12, 2014
Last Updated:
February 13, 2014