a boy What does it take to raise a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or support an adult with autism? Research from the London School of Economics and Political Science finds that the economic impact of autism for society is high. The collective cost of autism in the United Kingdom is billions of pounds, representing the price of treatment and lost productivity. The findings underscore the need for effective early interventions.

The researchers, led by Professor Martin Knapp, evaluated the costs of autism spectrum disorders to society in the United Kingdom and the United States. They found that the total societal cost for ASD is more than the combined cost of heart disease, stroke, and cancer in the UK. Although autism costs more, much less is spent on researching it. Research spending on ASD averages £6.60 per person, compared with £295 per person on cancer research.

In the UK, raising and supporting a person with an ASD can cost up to £1.5 million for individuals with the most severe symptoms. In the United States, the cost is up to $2.4 million per individual. In total, autism costs the United Kingdom at least £32 billion in treatment, lost earnings, and care or support for children and adults with autism. The UK spends about £12 billion on people with cancer and £8 billion on people with heart disease.

The imbalance between spending on autism care versus spending on autism research is indicative of the relatively low amounts of funding that go into mental health research in general. The research also highlights the need for early interventions and for government policies to support families, caregivers, and people with autism themselves. Early interventions can reduce the cost of treatment over the lifetime of a person with ASD.

This research is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

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