Report - Economic Costs of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Australia

Key findings 

This review has produced an estimate of the annual economic costs of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Australia, updating a previous study completed in April 2007. 

This review has produced an updated estimate of the annual economic costs of ASD in Australia, including the burden of disease, of between $8.1 billion (low prevalence) and $11.2 billion (high prevalence), with a mid-point of $9.7 billion (all estimates are in December 2010 dollars). 

The total direct and indirect costs (excluding burden of disease) are between $4.2 billion (low prevalence) and $7.3 billion (high prevalence), with a mid-point of $5.8 billion. The estimated cost of reduced quality of life (or the burden of disease) is an additional $3.9 billion. These costs are incremental costs, that is, they only represent the costs incurred for a person with ASD over and above the costs incurred by a person without ASD. 

This range reflects prevalence estimates of between 36.9 and 62.5 per 10,000: 

  • the costs reflected in these estimates include general and mental healthcare; social services; education; employment; informal care and the impact on well-being (referred to as the „burden of disease‟); 
  • the most significant impacts are the reduction in income arising from reduced employment, the cost of informal care (that is, care provided by family and friends) and the burden of disease. The impact on well-being is also particularly significant; and 
  • there are a number of costs that have been excluded due to lack of data (such as the costs of underemployment, alternative therapies, the cost of informal care for children and the cost of early intervention strategies). The above estimates are therefore likely to understate the full cost of ASD in Australia. 

There continues to be limited information available on the social and economic outcomes for people with ASD in Australia. For example: 

  • more work is needed on definitively establishing the prevalence of ASD; 
  • little is known regarding the long-term life outcomes for people with ASD, which will vary considerably across the autism spectrum. These outcomes include education, employment, living independence and social role attainment; and 
  • there is also very limited information on the impact of ASD on families. The costs of informal care have been included but the significant impacts of emotional and financial stress that can arise for families have not been quantified. 

Overall, this suggests that a significant group in our community can face a lifetime of disadvantage as a result of the condition. A natural question that arises from this is the response that is required. Whilst this is beyond the scope of the current study, it is evident that there is an ongoing need for community and policy dialogue, in areas such as: 

  • ensuring accurate and early diagnosis; 
  • understanding the range of outcomes experienced by children and adults with ASD and the consequent impact of this on the need for services and supports. Even if these supports don‟t alter the fundamental nature of a person‟s condition, it could significantly assist them in maximising their capabilities by making best use of the person‟s strengths, increase living independence and enhance their quality of life; and 
  • investment in strategies that could potentially alter the outcomes for at least some children with ASD, such as best practice early intervention. In particular, if this improves educational and employment outcomes for even a small number of people, the benefits (via reductions in costs and improvements in quality of life outcomes) will be sizeable. 

You can download the full report below.