Raising a child with autism can take a tremendous financial toll, even when insurance helps cover some of the costs. The cost of providing care for a person with autism in the U.S. is an estimated $1.4 million over their lifetime, according to a study funded by advocacy group Autism Speaks

For those with autism who are impacted with intellectual disabilities (with an IQ of 70 or less), nearly half of the population with autism, the cost jumps to $2.3 million. That’s in addition to the standard costs associated with raising a child, including food, education and housing. The cost for autism therapy is partly due to the labour intensive nature of early intervention therapies.

A child with autism should receive 20 – 40 hours a week of therapy by a trained professional for observable results over a long period of time. Parents and caregivers may play a role in keeping costs down by participating in therapy sessions with trained professionals, eventually progressing to conducting the therapy sessions themselves, thus contributing to the number of hours necessary for recovery.

However, not every parent or caregiver has the means to commit to the long hours or possesses the personality to cope with the sometime frustrating nature of the work.

Research has shown that early intervention can result in as many as 48% of diagnosed children being mainstreamed into regular schools, which has a great socio-economic impact. It has been calculated that it costs a family approximately two thirds less or 70% reduction in costs, if early intervention is received, in addition to the fact that the child is able to conduct daily routines and self care in later years. With the escalation of autism in this country, an economic strain might be present if these children do not receive assistance and specialised intervention. Children who were given the opportunity to be treated early would grow up to be self sustaining adults who can contribute to society and earn their own keeps.

If the number of children who are currently going untreated is considered, this could potentially have a disastrous spill-over effect on the country’s labour force both in terms of adults not capable of functioning within the workplace or families that have to carry the huge financial burden to accommodate these children. The far-reaching implications of this disorder can be an enormous drain on the family unit as well as the country.

Two cost-benefit studies of the early intensive behaviour intervention programme for young children in the US indicated that the implementation of early intervention for children with ASD would generate cost savings to the parents, compared with no early intervention. This was primarily due to a reduction in years of special education and care giving. These studies suggest that early intervention could improve functioning and quality of life for children with ASD as well as generate cost savings for the families in the long run.

Although results from other countries may not be generalised to the local context due to different health care systems and cost estimates, these studies add to our understanding of the health-related financial impact of ASD on families and the necessity for engaging early intervention in preparation for the future of the child should parents or caregivers are no longer able to provide for them in the later years of the child.