What is Autism?
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause of autism, but increased awareness and funding can help families today.
Currently, the Autism Society estimates that the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism ranges from $3.5 million to $5 million, and that the United States is facing almost $90 billion annually in costs for autism (this figure includes research, insurance costs and non-covered expenses, Medicaid waivers for autism, educational spending, housing, transportation, employment, in addition to related therapeutic services and caregiver costs).
Know the Signs: Early Identification Can Change Lives
Autism is treatable. Children do not "outgrow" autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.
Here are some signs to look for in the children in your life:
- Lack of or delay in spoken language
- Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
- Little or no eye contact
- Lack of interest in peer relationships
- Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
- Persistent fixation on parts of objects
Facts and Statistics
- 1 percent of the population of children in the U.S. ages 3-17 have an autism spectrum disorder.1
- Prevalence is estimated at 1 in 68 births.2
- 1 to 1.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder.3
- Fastest-growing developmental disability; 1,148% growth rate.4
- 10 – 17 % annual growth.5
- $60 billion annual cost.6
- 60% of costs are in adult services.7
- Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention.8
- In 10 years, the annual cost will be $200-400 billion.9
- 1 percent of the adult population of the United Kingdom have an autism spectrum disorder.10
- The cost of autism over the lifespan is 3.2 million dollars per person.11
- Only 56% of students with autism finish high school.12
- The average per-pupil expenditure for educating a child with autism was estimated by SEEP to be over $18,000 in the 1999-2000 school year. This estimate was nearly three times the expenditure for a typical regular education student who did not receive special education services.13
- The unemployment rate for people with disabilities was at 14%, compared with 9% for people without a disability. Additionally, during the same period, only 21% of all adults with disabilities participated in the labor force as compared with 69% of the non-disabled population.14
2003, 2006, 2009, 2011 Copyright the Autism Society. All rights reserved.
1. Pediatrics, October 5, 2009, based on a National Children’s Health Survey done with 78,000 parents in 2007.
2. “Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2010.” Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbitity and Mortality Weekly Report, 28 March 2014.
3. Based on the autism prevalence rate of 1 in 110 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009) and 2000 U.S. Census figure of 280 million Americans.
4. “Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Changes in the California Caseload, An Update June 1987 June 20007.” Cavagnaro, Andre T., California Health and Human Services Agency. State of California 2003 survey of developmental disabilities.
5. Autism Society estimate based on 2003 US state educational data.
6. Autism Society estimates based on UK study by Jarbrink K, Knapp M, 2001, London School of Economics: “The economic impact on autism in Britain,” Autism, 5 (1): 7-22.
7. Autism Society estimate.
8. Autism Society estimate, using Government Accounting Office Report on Autism 2007.
9. Autism Society estimate.
10. Autism Spectrum Disorders in adults living in households throughout England,” Report from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2007, a survey carried out for the United Kingdom NHS Information Centre for health and social care.
11. Arch Pediatric Adolesc Med. 2007;161:343-349.
12. (Wagner. M., et al. An Overview of Findings from Wave 2 of the National Transition Study, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA)
13. (GAO-05-220, Special Education Report to Congress, 2005)
14. Current Population Survey. (December 2010). Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, DC.