autismAutism costs the UK an estimated £32 billion per year in treatment, lost earnings and care and support for children and adults – more than heart disease, cancer and stroke combined, according to new research.

The study, led by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, has prompted health economists, families and charities to call again for increased investment in research for autism. More than 600,000 people in the UK have autism, with a quarter of those unable to talk, and 85% do not work full time.

Professor Martin Knapp from LSE said that between 40 and 60% of people with autism spectrum conditions also have intellectual disabilities, costing about £1.5 million over a lifetime, adding to the economic and social impact.

The economic impacts of autism include expenditure on hospital services, home health care, special education facilities and respite care, as well as lost earnings for people with autism and their parents.

Further reading: Leading the way to increase autism support in Sheffield

“What these figures show is a clear need for more effective interventions to treat autism, ideally in early life, making the best use of scarce resources,” Professor Knapp said. New government policies are also needed to address the enormous impact on families.” Christine Swabey, CEO of autism research charity Autistica, added: “We care about the human stories behind these numbers. Autism is life long and can make independent living and employment hugely challenging. This is part of why it has a greater economic impact than other conditions.

“There is an unacceptable imbalance between the high cost of autism and the amount we spend each year on researching how to fundamentally change the outlook for people.

“We know that progress is possible. The right research would provide early interventions, better mental health, and more independence. But right now we spend just £180 on research for every £1 million we spend on care.”

Autism researcher Professor Declan Murphy, from the Institute of Psychiatry, said: “The cost figures show that autism affects all of us in society, every day, regardless of whether or not we have a family member or friend with autism. So we all need to play a part in making things better. More research funding would mean that we could conduct studies to transform lives.”

The JAMA Pediatrics paper was a joint UK/US study looking at the costs of autism spectrum disorders in both countries. It was co-authored by LSE visiting researcher Ariane Buescher, and David Mandell and Zuleyha Cidav from Philadelphia in the US.