The lifetime distribution of the incremental societal costs of autism

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007 Apr;161(4):343-9. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.161.4.343.


Objective: To describe the age-specific and lifetime incremental societal costs of autism in the United States.

Design: Estimates of use and costs of direct medical and nonmedical care were obtained from a literature review and database analysis. A human capital approach was used to estimate lost productivity. These costs were projected across the life span, and discounted incremental age-specific costs were computed.

Setting: United States.

Participants: Hypothetical incident autism cohort born in 2000 and diagnosed in 2003.

Main outcome measures: Discounted per capita incremental societal costs.

Results: The lifetime per capita incremental societal cost of autism is $3.2 million. Lost productivity and adult care are the largest components of costs. The distribution of costs over the life span varies by cost category.

Conclusions: Although autism is typically thought of as a disorder of childhood, its costs can be felt well into adulthood. The substantial costs resulting from adult care and lost productivity of both individuals with autism and their parents have important implications for those aging members of the baby boom generation approaching retirement, including large financial burdens affecting not only those families but also potentially society in general. These results may imply that physicians and other care professionals should consider recommending that parents of children with autism seek financial counseling to help plan for the transition into adulthood.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Autistic Disorder / economics*
  • Autistic Disorder / nursing
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Efficiency
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Parents
  • United States