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PLoS One. 2014 Sep 5;9(9):e106552. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0106552. eCollection 2014.

The cost of autism spectrum disorders.

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School of Occupational Therapy & Social Work, CHIRI, Curtin University, Perth, Australia.
School of Occupational Therapy & Social Work, CHIRI, Curtin University, Perth, Australia; School of Education and Communication, CHILD Programme, Institute of Disability Research, Jönköping University, Jönköping, Sweden.
School of Psychology, CHIRI, Curtin University, Perth, Australia.
School of Occupational Therapy & Social Work, CHIRI, Curtin University, Perth, Australia; Rehabilitation Medicine, Department of Medicine and Health Sciences (IMH), Faculty of Health Sciences, Linköping University & Pain and Rehabilitation Centre, Linköping, Sweden; School of Occupational Therapy, La Trobe University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.



A diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorders is usually associated with substantial lifetime costs to an individual, their family and the community. However, there remains an elusive factor in any cost-benefit analysis of ASD diagnosis, namely the cost of not obtaining a diagnosis. Given the infeasibility of estimating the costs of a population that, by its nature, is inaccessible, the current study compares expenses between families whose children received a formal ASD diagnosis immediately upon suspecting developmental atypicality and seeking advice, with families that experienced a delay between first suspicion and formal diagnosis.


A register based questionnaire study covering all families with a child with ASD in Western Australia.


Families with one or more children diagnosed with an ASD, totalling 521 children diagnosed with an ASD; 317 records were able to be included in the final analysis.


The median family cost of ASD was estimated to be AUD $34,900 per annum with almost 90% of the sum ($29,200) due to loss of income from employment. For each additional symptom reported, approximately $1,400 cost for the family per annum was added. While there was little direct influence on costs associated with a delay in the diagnosis, the delay was associated with a modest increase in the number of ASD symptoms, indirectly impacting the cost of ASD.


A delay in diagnosis was associated with an indirect increased financial burden to families. Early and appropriate access to early intervention is known to improve a child's long-term outcomes and reduce lifetime costs to the individual, family and society. Consequently, a per symptom dollar value may assist in allocation of individualised funding amounts for interventions rather than a nominal amount allocated to all children below a certain age, regardless of symptom presentation, as is the case in Western Australia.

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