According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism is becoming more and more prevalent:
1975: 1 in 5,000 children were diagnosed with autism
2002: 1 in 150
2012: 1 in 68
That’s a roughly 65 percent increase between the year 2000 and 2010.
What does this mean for our children? What does this mean for our wallets?
What’s coming out is that more kids aren’t being born with autism, it’s rather the way we diagnose the disorder that is changing. That’s a relief. At least our population isn’t all suffering from a rapidly spreading disorder. So kids are basically the same as they were when the first study was conducted in the 1970’s. However, the world has changed. Since we diagnose so many of these kids, we are seeing the financial impact. Autistic children are children with special needs. Those special needs cost money to manage.
Special education enrollment figures show a 97 percent increase in enrollment between 2000 and 2010. This would be alright except we’re simply sending more and more kids into expensive programs instead of dealing with the student body as a whole. With so many children being diagnosed, one must ask if regular classroom shouldn’t just be built to better handle the many children who have autism.
A study conducted by the Special Education Expenditures Program (SEEP) outlined that the price tag of educating a special needs student is between $10,558 and $20,000. Whereas, an education without costs $6,665. Mothers and fathers who hear their kid has autism will push them to be placed in special needs classrooms. After all, they are just looking out for their children. The (possibly) over-diagnosis of Autism can have major repercussions on the US tax system. Many school budgets aren’t able to keep up with the ever-increasing diagnosis of this disorder.
According to a recent study from JAMA Pediatrics (funded by the nonprofit – Autism Speaks), the lifetime costs of a person with autism can exceed $2 million. The study takes into account everything. It includes medical, educational, and residential costs as well as lost opportunity costs such as lower employment wages. It’s really a study about what society is losing by having so many people diagnosed with Autism.
What’s especially worrisome is that many people being diagnosed today would not have been diagnosed years ago. Would those other people be more or less productive had they been diagnosed. It’s dangerous to diagnose a person unnecessarily as doctors may be doing today. All through life, they may feel inferior to people without these special needs. Autism may just become an excuse for them when they are feeling lazy. They may use it as a crutch. Alternatively, going undiagnosed could lead to confusion, depression, and a low self-worth.
What needs to happen is more accurate diagnoses needs to happen. This will not only help people live fuller lives but it will likely also help taxpayers. Funding an education system where 1 in 68 kids need an extra roughly $10,000 to finish school is a lot to ask.
If your child has autism, the JAMA Network cautions you not to overreact. They say it’s important to realize many of these costs are societal, indirect costs. The $2 million won’t necessarily come out of the parents’ pocket.