The surge in autism diagnoses since the year 2000 has come with a massive cost that’s shouldered largely by the public school system, say researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.
In what’s billed as a conservative estimate, they say the “economic burden” of an autism diagnosis is more than $17,000 a year through age 17, with medical costs making up less than 20% of the total. The biggest chunk of the tab, $8,610, is picked up by schools, according to their paper, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
“The education system is already under a lot of financial strain,” says Tara LaVelle, the lead author, who is now an associate policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. “We need policies at the federal, state and local level to make sure funds are available to provide appropriate intervention.”
In the study, 78% of children with ASD attended public school, compared with 62% of other children. Researchers found 76% of children with ASD use special education services, compared with 8% of the overall school population.
As autism diagnoses surged in the early 2000s, so did federal grants for special education – from $5 billion in 2000 to $12 billion just five years later. More recently, the pace of federal spending has slowed, leaving states and cities struggling to make up the difference.