Autism’s High Price Tag


When the pediatrician made his diagnosis: Your son has autism, Ashley was stunned. She had known something was wrong from the beginning. But autism?

It was a boggling diagnosis. Ashley’s first question was, “Will he be able to play soccer?” Grasping for the ordinary, soccer was the only cost Ashley could imagine paying.

“Little did we realize,” Ashley later told us, “that this diagnosis would begin a journey of therapies and treatments, which would consume our everyday lives.”

How do you put a price tag on an autism diagnosis? In some ways, of course, you can’t. But try it, and you’ll find the numbers staggering.

To Ashley, it didn’t matter … at first … that 1 in 68 children is on the autism spectrum. Or that the lifetime cost of autism is $2.4 million for a patient with an intellectual disability and $1.4 million for those who “only” have autism. She wasn’t thinking it would cost her an estimated $50,000 per year to care for her developmentally delayed son. But even in the initial shock and grief, she knew that a high cost would be exacted from her family. And Ashley was right. The autism diagnosis has cost Ashley and Chas a great deal — much more than a spot on the soccer team.

The economic cost of autism alone is staggering, draining society of $137 billion every year. Many of these costs are met out of public funds and charitable dollars, but the financial weight of autism can crack a small family’s budget.

Raising a child with autism can be simply overwhelming. Parents’ physical and mental health often suffer and even drive families apart. Ashley’s own family would be stretched beyond endurance.

“Autism,” Ashley says, “would eventually place Chas’s dad and me in the 85% of couples who have children with special needs and who divorce.”

The costs of autism are more than financial or familial. Social costs must be borne, too. Other disabilities may draw friends close to an impacted family, but all too often, autism divides its families and then isolates them.

“Having a child with autism can kill your social calendar,” Connie, mom to 12-year-old Cadence, who lives with autism, says. “When your kid is prone to taking off their clothes and streaking, tearing up magazines on the coffee table, cutting the hair off the heads of baby dolls or rearranging pictures on the wall, you don’t get a lot of invitations to dinner for the whole family.”

Autism wraps around a family. Friendships, health, marriages, finances can all splinter under the stress of it.

The Clemson Center for Human Genetics is committed to building a firm foundation for families impacted by autism by discovering genetics-based diagnostics and therapeutics. Early diagnosis and increasingly effective therapies are critical. They help ameliorate the exorbitant costs and impact of autism.

Click here to learn more about how you can help lift the burden for Ashley, Connie, and many more parents like them.

Meet Charlie

After a long three-year struggle trying to have children, our son, Charlie, was born on April 18, 2009. He was our miracle...perfect in every way! When Charlie was five days old, our pediatrician called to notify us that one of the numbers from the heel prick test was a bit high. We headed to the hospital that afternoon for more tests. I will never forget the following day. It was cool and crisp - not a cloud in the sky. The next thing I know, our ...

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