Cost of autism is more than cancer, strokes and heart disease, study finds

  • LSE researchers have found that the cost of autism is so high because it is a lifelong condition and affects more than 1% of the population. Pounds Up

    Autism costs the UK economy £2bn a year which is more than any other medical condition and is a greater cost than cancer, strokes and heart disease combined, say an economic analysis of the condition's impact.

    Researchers say these high figures are because it is a life-long condition and the hope that their findings will spur policymakers into intervening more effectively and at an earlier age, reports the Guardian.

    Professor Martin Knapp, from the London School of Economics who co-authored the study, said: "Autism is more common than perhaps people realise - it's more than 1% of the population. Also the impact that it has is across the lifespan, particularly for people with autism and learning difficulties, also known as low-functioning autism. Those individuals would need quite a lot of care and support from a pretty early age. You're talking about 60 to 70 years of support for people with this level of need."

    Over 600,000 people in the UK are estimated to have autism, which is associated with poor social and communication skills and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour. Almost a quarter of people with autism speaks little or no words, with 85% not working full time.

    The paper, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics on Monday, was the result of a joint UK-US study looking at the costs of autism spectrum disorders in both countries by reviewing existing literature.

    Knapp said: "Some of the ways individuals have assistance with a condition don't have to be as severe, demanding and costly as they are today. If you can do better things to address the underlying behaviours or the consequences of autism, if you can do more to identify or treat those needs, we can do more to bring some of those costs down."

    In the UK, £4m per year is spent on autism research, compared to £590m on cancer, £169m on heart disease and £32m on stroke research. The research charity Autistica said the paper makes the case for greater investment to understand the condition, rather than ploughing money into long-term care.

    "Right now we spend just £180 on research for every £1m we spend on care," said Christine Swahey, its chief executive. "If you're spending that much money, you really need to know whether you are spending it in the best way. All governments are strapped for cash, so you have to make sure you are spending it effectively, which I'm not sure we are doing at the moment. Autism is something that develops very, very early in infancy, and if we could get in early and intervene before school age, we could maybe alter the way autism develops in adulthood."

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