The study, led by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, found that autism costs the UK an estimated £32 billion per year in treatment, lost earnings and care and support for children and adults – more than heart disease, cancer and stroke combined.
According to charity Ambitious About Autism, the condition affects about one in 100 children in the UK, with around half a million family members directly affected by the condition.
Study lead Professor Martin Knapp believes the findings show "a clear need for more effective interventions to treat autism, ideally in early life, making the best use of scarce resources".
While the number of children with a Statement of Special Educational Needs is 2.8%, the number of children whose statement lists autism as a primary need has increased by 5% since 2011.
The largest cost components for children in the study were special education services and parental productivity loss, with additional economic impacts including expenditure on hospital services, home health care.
Christine Swabey, CEO of autism research charity Autistica, added: "There is an unacceptable imbalance between the high cost of autism and the amount we spend each year on researching how to fundamentally change the outlook for people.
"We know that progress is possible. The right research would provide early interventions, better mental health, and more independence. But right now we spend just £180 on research for every £1 million we spend on care."
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