A Closer Look at Autism’s Cost


Over the course of my career as a psychologist and board certified behavior analyst, I’ve seen the enormous emotional toll that caring for an individual with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) can have on a family.

Earlier this month, a report released by the Journal of the American Medical Association and funded by Autism Speaks revealed the staggering financial toll ASDs can have on families, with total lifetime costs ranging anywhere from $1.4 to $2.4 million. With 3.5 million people on the spectrum, these expenditures can amount to $236 billion every year, more than what the U.S. spent on veterans’ benefits, transportation and education in 2012.

In addition to the normal expenses that parents incur, most families who have an individual on the spectrum also pay for applied behavioral analysis, speech and occupational therapy. Many of these children also have other medical issues (e.g. seizures, dietary restrictions, etc.) that can add even more expenses, often not covered or reimbursed.

These significant costs can also carry over into adulthood as shown by recent research conducted by Dr. Paul Shattuck. He analyzed data regarding post-high school employment and education, revealing unmet service needs and a socio-economic gap in outcomes for young adults with autism. Unfortunately, what Dr. Shattuck found is not surprising. I have seen families sell their homes, take on additional jobs and go into significant debt to fund the necessary services as a result of caring for someone with ASDs.

This is where Emmersiv aims to help.

The Gary and Mary West Health Institute, through its Emmersiv project, is researching a lower cost, supplemental behavioral therapy software solution for children with ASDs using Microsoft’s® Kinect for Windows™ platform. Specifically, this project aims to provide an interactive program to build executive function skills such as flexible thinking, organization and problem solving. Its purpose is also to provide therapists, parents, teachers and other service providers with the tools necessary to teach social interaction skills.

Ultimately, our goal with Emmersiv is to work toward solutions for children with autism to help them become more included and more immersed in their community. We also want to help them to develop the social and communication skills needed for future employment. Our technology has the potential to remedy some of the issues associated with treatment delivery, measurement of outcomes, accessibility of quality treatment, cost and effectiveness.

At the West Health Institute, we hope our research project ensures that all children with ASDs have access to quality therapy at a young age, increasing their chances of being independent adults. If we can do this while easing the emotional and financial toll on millions of families across the country, it would be the achievement of a lifetime.

If you’d like to know more about Emmersiv, please feel free to reach out to our team at emmersivinfo@westhealth.org.
Christina Whalen, PhD
Clinical Research Manager
West Health Institute