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.