$1.36 Trillion in Annual Autism Costs to Hit U.S. by 2040, $5.5 Trillion by 2060

July 21, 2021

New Analysis First to Project Annual Costs of ASD Over Several Decades 

A shocking new analysis published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders projects frightening new financial statistics connected directly to the ongoing autism epidemic. Remarkably, the report predicts that in less than 20 years, autism will cost the United States over $1 trillion annually. This thought-provoking study was authored by seasoned autism researchers, Cynthia Nevison, Ph.D., Toby Rogers, Ph.D., and Mark Blaxill, MBA. 

The authors used a total American autism base cost of $223 billion for the year 2020 to start their analysis. From there, the team calculated future autism annual costs until the year 2060 by looking at four factors: historical autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prevalence with time trend data for both severe and full-spectrum rates, a matrix of cost per individual for multiple categories applied to multiple age cohorts, projections of future size of ASD population, and inflation projections by cost component. Their cost projections were staggering. At the current pace, autism is tracking to cost the United States $589 billion by 2030, $1.36 trillion by 2040, and $5.54 trillion by 2060.  

The two largest ASD cost categories identified by the paper are (indirect) individual productivity loss followed by direct non-medical services such as residential housing, which rise with age. The authors also reported that autism is more expensive than other disorders since it strikes in childhood and its effects are felt during the entire natural lifespan. Autism rates have skyrocketed from 1 in 10,000 for individuals born before 1950 to almost 3% of the current American childhood population. The country will experience an exponential growth in expenditures to pay for services and programs necessary for affected individuals. This new report proves this point by including information from the Social Security Administration (SSA).  Prior to 2010, the SSA’s Annual Statistics Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program had no listing of autistic beneficiaries. However, since 2010 (the first year autism is listed), SSDI beneficiaries have increased at an annual rate of 14%: from 72,449 in 2010 to 232,003 in 2019. 

In a fascinating section of their paper, the researchers introduce the topic of ASD prevention. They suggest that efforts to prevent the disorder could potentially save the country trillions of dollars in future costs. The notion of ASD prevention is not unattainable and should be examined. Last year, co-author Cynthia Nevison, published a paper which demonstrated that autism rates are declining for wealthy families but rising for the socioeconomically challenged

SafeMinds reached out to co-author MarkBlaxill, a parent of a young adult with ASD, to discuss his views on the new paper. Blaxill told us that he was compelled to study future costs of autism because the subject has not received nearly enough attention and due to his long career in strategy and finance, he felt he could provide valuable insights. Blaxill noticed previous studies on the topic had several design errors. The first mistake he observed was an assumption of a constant autism prevalence, which Blaxill says results in a gross overstatement of current adult costs. The current adult ASD population doesn’t exist at the rate children currently do. The second error he discovered was an underestimate of the current cost for children, as their numbers are often behind the incredible rise of childhood autism prevalence rates. Third, Blaxill felt that earlier researchers were ignoring the massive increase and changing mix of autism costs over time.  From early childhood intervention to residential housing costs; he showed that these costs do not remain static. 

Blaxill ended our conversation with a sobering thought on the aging autism parent population. 

He stated, “All autism parents worry about what will happen to our kids when we die. When will that time come? Life expectancy for the autism parents’ generation is about 82. So taking myself for an example, I can expect to die somewhere around 2040.” Blaxill continued,  “How big will the autism problem be when I die? The answer is over a trillion dollars, every single year in the U.S. alone.”

According to this paper, a large portion autism parents will start retiring in 2025.  And as Blaxill pointed out, these parents may start dying in around 2040. At that time, costs for adult care for those with autism will skyrocket. What will this financial strain do to our country? This is an especially worrisome question considering there doesn’t seem to be a federal plan to deal with this mounting “autism tsunami” problem. 

Original Study

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