In the past, we have seen how much it would cost to replace a housewife and how much it cost to raise a child.

What about a child with special needs?  A recent literature review of U.S. and U.K. studies on patients with autism spectrum disorders and their families in 2013 came up with the economic impact. 

Autism used to be rather specific but the modern range of autism spectrum disorders is really broad, so Ariane V.S. Buescher, M.Sc., of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and colleagues separate those with intellectual disabilities and those with just behavioral issues.

Their number for autism with an intellectual disability? $2.4 million in the United States and $2.2 million in the United Kingdom.  Without an intellectual disability but with a diagnosis of ASD meant the cost was $1.4 million in both the United States and the U.K.

Consider that the USDA estimates a normal child born in 2012 will cost $301,970 (inflation adjusted) just to raise to age 18, which was once considered adulthood. That means that a lifetime cost for autism without an intellectual disability really isn't all that high.

The largest segments of cost for children were special education services and the loss of parental productivity. During adulthood, the highest costs were related to residential care or supportive living and individual productivity loss.

"This study presents the most comprehensive estimates to date of the financial costs of ASDs in the United States and the United Kingdom. These costs are much higher than previously suggested.

"There is also an urgent need for a better understanding of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of interventions and support arrangements that address the needs and respond to the preferences of individuals with ASDs and their families. Because the economic effects of ASDs in individuals with or without intellectual disability are considerable throughout life, so too should the search for more efficient and equitable use of resources span all age groups."

This study was supported by Autism Speaks. Estimates for the United Kingdom were built on previous research funded by the Steve Shirley Foundation.

Citation: JAMA Pediatr, June 9, 2014, doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.210