The Financial Cost of the Autism Epidemic

An article co-authored by Mark Blaxill, Toby Rogers, and Cynthia Nevison just published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders models the costs of autism in the U.S. over the next 40 years. It shows $238 billion a year in current costs rising to $5.5 trillion per year by 2060. This study makes several important contributions to the literature on the costs of autism:
  1. It has the best-in-class modeling of autism prevalence showing that the U.S. will surpass 6% ASD rates in children in 2024 and 7% ASD rates in children in 2032 (36% severe and 64% milder cases).
  2. Many prior cost models were static or assumed linear increases in prevalence. This model is fluid and shows how constantly rising prevalence causes ever-increasing costs and how those costs will move through society over time.
  3. When one graphs constantly rising costs over 40 years it resembles a tsunami that will destroy everything in its path. 
  4. Costs that are currently borne by parents are going to shift permanently onto federal, state, and local government as the parents of the first generation of the epidemic begin to die (sometime around 2040). At the moment no level of government is thinking about how to meet this unprecedented challenge.
  5. This is the first cost model to highlight the possibility and importance of autism prevention.

Autism Tsunami: the Impact of Rising Prevalence on the Societal Cost of Autism in the United States


The cost of ASD in the U.S. is estimated using a forecast model that for the first time accounts for the true historical increase in ASD. Model inputs include ASD prevalence, census population projections, six cost categories, ten age brackets, inflation projections, and three future prevalence scenarios. Future ASD costs increase dramatically: total base-case costs of $223 (175–271) billion/year are estimated in 2020; $589 billion/year in 2030, $1.36 trillion/year in 2040, and $5.54 (4.29–6.78) trillion/year by 2060, with substantial potential savings through ASD prevention. Rising prevalence, the shift from child to adult-dominated costs, the transfer of costs from parents onto government, and the soaring total costs raise pressing policy questions and demand an urgent focus on prevention strategies.


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