Autism is a hot topic, but how often is the cost of raising a person with autism discussed? Today, more people are aware of autism diagnoses, typical autistic behaviors, and autism research than ever before. Despite this growing awareness, the impact of autism on the family budget is rarely discussed. Parents and guardians of autistic children must live in areas that service their children’s needs, go to frequent medical appointments and dedicate a great deal of time toward caring for their loved one. The costs of these accommodations add up, making the cost of nurturing an autistic family member much higher than many might think.

Related resource: History of Autism Treatment

Relocation Costs

In the United States, there are many school-based special needs programs, health care professionals and social service providers to assist families of autistic children. Many areas of the country, however, do not have adequate resources to cater to autistic people’s needs. Because of this, many Americans are compelled to relocate so their children can access more and better services. Some families even relocate to different states to maximize their children’s access to these resources, which hits the pocketbook even harder. After the thousands of dollars spent on the initial move, relocating families often lose geographic access to other family members who could ease their financial burden in a variety of ways like helping with childcare or meals.

Bills, Bills, Bills

Visits to the doctor’s office, prescription medications, and therapy sessions stack up bills that any family can imagine. People on the Autism spectrum require all three frequently for their entire lives. According to a 2014 study in the journal Pediatrics, families of autistic children can expect over $3,000 USD in additional household medical costs per child. In addition to those costs, caseworkers, therapists, and other resources can add up to an additional $14,000 or more.

Over a lifetime, the financial impact of autism on a family is substantial. The Journal of American Medicine determined that the lifetime costs for caring for a child with autism add up to $1.4 million USD per person. Insurance only covers a fraction of the costs of caring for children with autism, so families can quickly end up in the red. Some government services, like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), can also off-set these bills, but not all providers accept Medicaid insurance plans.

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Costs of Limited Time

If time is money, then the loss of time is probably the most expensive thing these families must pay for. Family members will often work fewer hours, reject overtime or even stop working altogether to take care of their autistic dependent. Couples with autistic children have less time to spend supporting each other outside of their child’s needs. The financial losses here are difficult to quantify, but they are most certainly there. Parents lose out on opportunities for promotions, second jobs and desperately needed free time. The toll this takes on a person’s health adds to those costs, making the challenge of caring for an autistic person even more costly.

Learning more about autism is important; so is understanding the broad effects of this diagnosis. That’s because autism can deeply impact a family’s finances.