The costs of supporting children with ASDs were estimated to be £2.7 billion per year. For adults, these costs rise to £25 billion each year. Lifetime costs for someone with autism were calculated as £0.8 million for someone with ASD without intellectual disability, and £1.2 million for someone with autism who was also intellectually disabled (50 percent higher).
Significant costs were attributed to public services. For children, the highest costs were for special education, health and social care and respite care. 95 percent of the total national cost for children was accounted for by services funded by the state, and 5 percent by family expenses.
For adults, the largest cost elements were staffed/supported accommodation, lost productivity because the individual with ASD was not employed, and hospital services. For non-intellectually disabled adults, the largest elements were lost productivity for the individual, hospital costs, and lost productivity for parents. 59 percent of the total was attributable to publicly funded services, 36 percent to lost employment for the individual with ASD, and the remaining 5 percent to family expenses.
The researchers suggest that the high costs associated with supporting adults with ASD warrant attention, supporting calls for wider provisions of early interventions with children and young people with ASD, which have been shown to alter patterns of behaviour. They also call on the government to review policy frameworks for supporting those with ASDs, in particular reviewing support for independent living and for increasing productivity.
The researchers however caution that the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of intervention must be evaluated further. They add, “given the autistic spectrum includes a number of disorders and a wide range of needs, symptoms and characteristics, it is likely that a wide range of behavioural, educational and medical interventions could be required in order to meet some or all individual needs.”
They conclude, “the costs presented in this paper certainly do not provide an economic case for early intervention, but they do emphasise the importance of addressing just that question. If early intervention could successfully change some aspects of behaviour that are cost-raising, both in childhood and subsequently, it may allow cost savings to be made and quality of life improvements to be achieved.”
The research is published in a special issue of autism which focus on adults with ASD. The autism & Employment Workshop will be attended by representatives of the National Audit Office, the Department of Health, the National Autistic Society.