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Study reveals financial burden of autism in very young children

New research estimates the cost of the health, social care and education services for young children in the UK with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at about £3,000 per family for 6 months. However, the average cost conceals substantial variation between individuals.  

The economics research was led by Dr Barbara Barrett and Dr Sarah Byford from the Centre for the Economics of Mental Health Research at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry. Together with colleagues at the Universities of Manchester and Newcastle and the Institute of Child Health in London, the families of 152 children under the age of 5 with ASD were interviewed in London, Manchester and the North East of England. 

The average costs over six months were around £2,600 per family for service costs and another £400 per family for out-of-pocket costs. Applying this estimate to the UK population and latest prevalence figures mean that the cost to the state of pre-school children with autism is £109 million and the cost that falls to families is a further £21 million. Costs were statistically higher for older children and children with more severe autism. Although higher than previous estimates, the authors argue they provide a more accurate picture of the cost burden of autism in the early years by basing their research on a real sample of children with autism.

Dr Barrett says: ‘The differences in individual use of specialist services raises concerns about the equity of access. However, we found no evidence that access to specialist services depended on parents’ educational background, ethnic group or geographical location. This is a significant positive finding in the context of the National Service Framework for Children and Young People’ 

Approximately 1 percent of children suffer from ASD. The pre-school age is of particular importance as it is usually the time during which children are first diagnosed with autism. It is also a period that has received little attention in previous research yet the time during which early intervention programmes are most encouraged.

Dr Barrett says: ‘Knowledge of the relationship between age and severity of autism with costs could help improve service planning and identify areas where resources should be focused’.

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council and the UK Department for Children, Schools and Families, with a UK Department of Health award for excess treatment and support costs. 

For full paper: Barrett, B. et al. ‘Service and Wider Societal Costs of Very Young Children with Autism in the UK’, Journal of Autism and Development Disorders, doi: 10.1007/s10803-011-1393-8

For more information, please contact Seil Collins, Press Officer at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, email: or tel: 0207 848 5377
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