Autism in the United States. Can We Afford It?

Photo Courtesy of the US Department of Health and Human Services

Photo Courtesy of the US Department of Health and Human Services CDC

1 and 68 children in the US are now diagnosed with autism. Where did these staggering numbers come from? How will this affect us and our families?

By Roz Prescott

In 2001 we were starting to adjust to new innovations such as iTunes and Wikipedia and we were all shocked to hear that 1 in 150 children in the US were diagnosed with autism; but just 6 years later, in 2007, as we were reading our news on a new item called an iPhone, we discovered that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 child in every 110 in the US. Fast forward another 7 years to 2014, where flying robots may soon be delivering our groceries, and the rate is now an astounding 1 child in every 68!

Yes, but this doesn’t affect me, does it?

The rise of autism affects everyone. One of the greatest impacts is that of the financial cost. Autism services cost U.S. citizens between $236-262 billion annually. A majority of costs in the U.S. support adults living with autism– $175-196 billion, compared to $61-66 billion for children. It is estimated by the Autism Society of America that in 10 years, the annual cost of providing services to individuals with Autism will be between $200-400 billion. It is impossible to imagine that this enormous and growing cost will not have an impact on the county and its citizens, whether it be higher taxes, an increase in government spending, or budget-slashing in other government departments to cover this pressing need.

How can we lessen the impact of Autism?

Simply put, early intervention! Getting children enrolled in quality early intervention programs at an early age when, developmentally, there is more of a chance for growth, and when there are more family and educational support systems in place can have an enormous impact.

The cost of lifelong care can be reduced by up to 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention. It seems so simple, so why are we not all doing it? Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what questions to ask or where to get help. Most people also do not realize the financial impact autism will have on the country.

How can we learn more?

There are lots of programs and initiatives out there that provide great education and resources to help with early diagnosis so that treatment can begin as soon as possible.

  • The CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program has joined with others across the federal government to promote developmental and behavioral screening through the “Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive” campaign.
  • Easter Seals, the leading provider of autism services in the US, has an initiative called “Making the First Five Count,” an advocacy and awareness campaign focused on helping children with disabilities get the treatment and supports they need in the first 5 years of their lives.

Call to action!

A united voice is necessary to ensure the provision of funds for early intervention services to all people in the US. If we succeed, we can help reduce the long-term costs of care that this country currently faces and will continue to face in coming years.

  • Easter Seals, has a petition you can sign to show your support for this critical need and they are gathering signatures from people all over the country. Sign the petition!
  • Autism Speaks offers advocacy links so that you can get more involved in supporting children with disabilities. Learn more!

Who will take a step to help the country meet this growing need? It seems to me that this is everyone’s responsibility. So please: reach out, learn more, get involved and let’s help ourselves out, by helping others out, and offer our support to the 1 in 68 children in the US who are diagnosed with autism.


roz_profileAbout Roz Prescott, MA,BCBA

Roz Prescott is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and one of Rethink’s Directors of Professional Services living and working in Florida.  She is originally from Wales, UK and has spent over 17 years working with children and adults with disabilities in diverse settings, including intensive psychiatric residential, educational, child welfare, and home and community.  She formerly served as the Senior VP of Programs for Easter Seals, Florida.

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