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You Won't Believe How Much It Costs to Raise a Kid With Autism

Study reveals staggering costs of raising a child with autism
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

As Canadian mom Linda Mercier recently told Reuters, "Only a parent of a child with special needs can ever understand the struggles, and the financial commitment, of raising and recovering an autistic child." And she should know — she's been raising a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder for 13 years.

But that financial commitment, according to a new study released in this month's JAMA Pediatrics journal, is a pretty pricey one. Research shows that the lifetime cost of raising a kid on the spectrum apparently tops off at a whopping $1.4 million. That cost varies of course from child to child, but includes the cost of tutors, therapists and lost wages between parents. And if the child has a learning disability on top of ASD, that number climbs to $2.4 million.

While Mercier admitted to Reuters she wasn't too startled by those estimates, even the study's lead author was.

"What we found was shocking," said Dr. David Mandell, director for the Center of Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the University of Pennsylvania. "This is a huge hit on families."

Autism Speaks estimates that the average yearly costs for raising a child with autism are somewhere in the $60,000 range. But for some parents, that price tag climes even higher.

Reuters spoke with journalist Ron Suskind, who admitted that the cost of treatment for his now 23-year-old son Owen is about $90,000.

Needless to say, footing the bill for treatment has always been a struggle. "When we first got the diagnosis, the doctor asked me what I did for a living," he told Reuters. "I said 'newspaper reporter.' He said, 'I'm so sorry to hear that. You know, private equity is a nice way to go.'"

So stifling are the costs, that Suskind notes many parents with kids on the spectrum are often forced to pack up and move to states where more therapeutic treatments are offered. While this gives their child a leg up in the long-run, it also lessens the hit to their parent's wallet. (Autism Speaks has a state-by-state resource guide, which you can check out right here.)

There is a bright spot in all of this: Congress is considering a measure to mitigate ASD treatment costs for families. "ABLE" accounts, set up for those with disabilities, would work similarly to 529 college savings plans and offer tax advantages.

And while families like the Merciers and the Suskinds continue to struggle with the daily hit to their budget, Mercier says there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

"I would tell other parents of special-needs children that there is hope," she said. "It can get a lot better, and it does. But it takes a whole lot of money to get there."

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