Just over a month ago new statistics were announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed the prevalence of Autism was once again on the rise. Last year they noted that 1 in 54 children were diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum. The new data is now indicating diagnoses at 1 in 44 children.
Perspective on this number could be helpful in sharing this information. For me, when I joined the Board of Directors for Little Friends in 2016, at that time the estimates were that Autism was being diagnosed at 1 in 89 children. With this new announcement, the number has literally doubled during the past five years. This explains why researchers all over the world are trying to determine the explanations for this global phenomenon.
It is assumed that part of this change is driven by the increased knowledge we are gaining related to the symptoms we see and better understand. As this understanding and base of knowledge grows, many are asking where the level of diagnoses might plateau in terms of number of children thought to be dealing with this challenge. Today we don’t know the answer to this question, other than to recognize that it’s growing substantially and the impact it has in terms of costs is getting attention.
Recently, I received a copy of a report from an organization called “The Spectrum Group” that did a great job of explaining “Autism by the Numbers” and its apparent rise. Included in the study was detail projecting the costs that are anticipated in 2025 based upon prior 2015 expenditures. What caught my eye was that these projections indicate that the costs associated with Autism could soon pass those dealing with Diabetes, today considered the most expensive health issue to address. Total costs of involved individuals dealing with autism and other intellectual/developmental disabilities were thought to have the potential to reach $1 Trillion dollars per year by 2025.
Admittedly the idea of spending $1 Trillion dollars on this scares me. It also says that we need to do things now to help find ways to lower these costs moving forward.
Here are a couple of things we are doing at Little Friends. First, we know from other CDC studies that getting a child evaluated and into therapies before the brain has been fully developed statistically results in lower lifetime support costs for an individual on the Autism Spectrum. Data quoted several years ago claimed the savings in support costs was two-thirds of what was normally spent on an individual who started getting help after age 5.
However, the second thing we are doing is working on providing individuals with experiences that have the potential to be carried over into potential community employment. We are expanding several training initiatives in our new facility in Warrenville to provide both experience and aptitude assessments to help prepare the adolescents we serve at Krejci Academy for potential work. Again, we are trying to create opportunities where the individuals have greater independence that comes from these skills and employment.
While we know that the number of diagnoses of children on the Spectrum is growing, we also know that there are opportunities available to help prepare those we serve for life after school, creating confidence and potentially less reliance on outside services. It is the right thing to do for a LOT of reasons!