As a country, the United States sees billions of dollars spent on autism-related costs every year. Health insurance covers some of these expenses, but families of autistic children have high out-of-pocket costs.

For each individual with autism, it is estimated that at least $2 million is spent over the course of a lifetime on autism-related expenses. 

Costs of Autism in the United States

The average annual cost of autism in the United States varies considerably based on the parameters being evaluated, but all estimates are consistently in the billions.

One study calculating the annual direct costs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children estimated the costs at $11.5 billion. Another study, evaluating direct and indirect costs of autism, estimated a cost of up to $66 billion per year for children. 

The majority of autism costs, however, are for adult services, which are at an estimated $175 to $196 billion per year. In 2015, the total cost of care for children and adults with autism was $268 billion. This number is predicted to increase to $461 billion by 2025 if more effective interventions are not established for support of autism across a lifespan.

Autism costs society far more than direct services provided for children and adults with ASD. Indirect costs include:

  • Special programming in schools.
  • Lost work productivity for parents of children with autism.
  • Unpaid family care.
  • Employment limitations of people with ASD.

The health care costs are just a portion of the total cost of autism to the country. Because of this, comprehensive programs are needed that provide therapeutic, vocational, familial, and caregiving support for children and adults with autism. 

How the Costs Have Changed Over Time

As the rates of autism have increased over the years, so too have the associated costs. When evaluating the social costs of autism, which includes medical and nonmedical expenses, researchers calculate significant social costs of autism. From 1990 to 2019, there were about 2 million new cases of autism, with associated social costs of more than $7 trillion. 

From 2019 to 2029, a predicted 1 million new cases of ASD will be diagnosed, resulting in an additional $4 trillion in social costs across the country. If the rate of new cases continues to increase, these costs could reach $15 trillion in the next eight years. 

As the definition of autism and awareness about the condition expands, a greater number of children receive diagnoses at younger ages. The result is that they receive much needed early intervention services early on. Then, lifetime costs of autism treatment start accruing. 

Where the Costs Come From

The costs of autism stem from the variety of therapies and interventions people with autism typically need to live their best lives, as well as indirectly associated costs. 

Costs of autism come from the following:

  • Medical and health care
  • Therapeutic costs
  • Special education programs
  • Lost work productivity for adults with ASD
  • Informal care by family members
  • Lost work productivity for family and caregivers

In general, families of autistic children have significantly higher annual costs than families with neurotypical children. One of the greatest costs for families is paying for proper education for their autistic children. Autism-specific programs are not always provided by public education and come at additional out-of-pocket expenses to parents.

Average Annual & Lifetime Costs Per Person

The total cost of autism varies per person based on the severity of ASD and which services the individual requires. Researchers estimate, however, that the total lifetime cost of autism per individual is between $2.4 million and $3.2 million.

Insurance covers much of that expense, but out-of-pocket expenses still remain. It is estimated that families of children with autism end up paying $4,000 more out-of-pocket expenses per year for health care expenses than families unaffected by autism.

Additionally, families with an autistic child frequently have an income loss of up to $20,000 per year to care for a child with autism.

Parents of autistic children are more than twice as likely to stop working or transition to part-time work to care for their child.

Statistics on the Cost of Autism

Costs of autism vary between individuals and families but are undoubtedly significant. Statistics on the various costs of autism, as provided by Autism Speaks, are as follows:

  • On average, autism costs an estimated $60,000 per year throughout childhood, which increases with the co-occurrence of intellectual disability.
  • Mothers of children with autism work less and earn 56% less than mothers of children without any health problems.
  • Almost half of 25-year-olds with ASD have never had a paying job.
  • Of the people with autism who used state-funded vocational training programs in 2014, 60% of the graduates found a job. However, 80% of those individuals only found part-time work paying them an average weekly wage of $160.
  • Children with ASD have medical expenses that are an average of 4.1 to 6.2 times greater than children without ASD.

Autism Costs Around the World

Just like in the U.S., autism costs are high around the world. In an effort to gain a better understanding of the economic impact of autism in the European Union (EU), researchers evaluated the costs of autism across 14 EU countries. They discovered the following:

  • The direct costs per individual with autism per half-year ranged from 797 euros in Romania to 11,189 euros in Denmark.
  • The costs of lost productivity of caregivers per half-year ranged from 307 euros per individual in Poland to 4467 euros per caregiver in Austria.
  • The highest costs were associated with special education services. 
  • Health and social services paid directly by individuals were the next highest costs after education services. 

The cost of autism being significantly higher in some countries than others is due, in part, to the availability of resources. Likewise, the rates of autism and costs of services in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) often appear lower than in developed countries like the United States, but it is not due to a lack of need. LMICs must prioritize survival and physical health over behavioral and mental health services. 

Researchers have observed that even when autism services are available, financial barriers often make it difficult for families to access early screening, testing, and treatment services. Advocates for supporting developmental disabilities, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have announced the need to increase evidenced-based mental health services in LMICs. 

Increasing accessibility to intervention services will likely increase the costs associated with autism in these countries. But it will also greatly improve the lives of individuals and their families impacted by autism.