Home > Website archive > News and media > News archives > 2014 > 06 > Autism is the most costly medical condition in the UK

Autism is the most costly medical condition in the UK

Autism-140pResearch published in a leading international medical journal shows that autism costs the UK more than heart disease, cancer and stroke combined.

A new study led by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) estimates that autism costs the country at least £32 billion per year in treatment, lost earnings, care and support for children and adults with autism.

More than 600,000 people in the UK have autism, a condition associated with poor social and communication skills and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour. A quarter of people with autism are unable to talk, and 85% do not work full time.

The new research, published on June 9 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, has prompted health economists, families and charities to call again for increased investment in research for autism.

Martin-Knapp140pixelsProfessor Martin Knapp from LSE said that between 40 and 60 per cent of people with autism spectrum disorders also have intellectual disabilities, costing around £1.5 million over a lifetime, adding to the economic and social impact.

“What these figures show is a clear need for more effective interventions to treat autism, ideally in early life, making the best use of scarce resources,” Professor Knapp said. “New government policies are also needed to address the enormous impact on families,” he added.

Christine Swabey, CEO of Autistica, the UK’s leading autism research charity, said: “We care about the human stories behind these numbers. Autism is life long and can make independent living and employment hugely challenging. This is part of why it has a greater economic impact than other conditions.”

“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,” Ms Swabey said.

“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 £1million we spend on care.”

The economic impacts of autism include expenditure on hospital services, home health care, special education facilities and respite care, as well as lost earnings for both people with autism and their parents.

Autism researcher Professor Declan Murphy, from the Institute of Psychiatry, said: “The cost figures show that autism affects all of us in society, every day, regardless of whether or not we have a family member or friend with autism. So we all need to play a part in making things better. More research funding would mean that we could conduct studies to transform lives.”

In a recent survey by Autistica, 90% of parents and 89% of adults with autism said that there was a need for greater scientific understanding of autism. One father said: “We should be making science work harder to make life more bearable.” A woman, who was diagnosed with autism aged 50, says: “I look for interventions, but there do not seem to be interventions for people my age.”

The JAMA Pediatrics paper was a joint UK/US study looking at the costs of autism spectrum disorders in both countries. It was co-authored by LSE Visiting Researcher Ariane Buescher, and David Mandell and Zuleyha Cidav from Philadelphia in the US.   Ends.

For more information, contact Professor Martin Knapp at m.knapp@lse.ac.uk, or 020 7955 6225, Ariane Buescher 07 552 270 944 or Candy Gibson, LSE Press Office 020 7849 4624 or c.gibson@lse.ac.uk

For information, interviews, images, b-roll, or case studies from Autistica, contact Olivia Curno Olivia.curno@autistica.org.uk or 07870 606 563.

Notes for Editors:

Over 600,000 people in the UK have autism. A quarter never learn to talk; 85% do not work full time. Autism changes the way in which the brain develops, affecting each person uniquely. People with autism have social and communication difficulties, and a range of repetitive interests and behaviours.

Cost of autism to the UK economy is £32.1bn per year, compared to cancer (£12bn) heart disease (£8bn) and stroke (£5bn).

We spend just £4m per year on autism research, as compared to cancer (£590m) heart disease (£169m) or stroke (£32m).

Costs of autism spectrum disorders in the United Kingdom and United States of America is authored by Professor Martin Knapp and Ariane V.S. Buescher (LSE), Zuleyha Cidav and David S. Mandell (Centre for Mental Health Policy & Services Research and the Center for ASD Research, Pennsylvania, USA).

Autistica works to transform the lives of children and adults with autism through groundbreaking research. It funds scientists across the UK to understand autism better, improve diagnosis and develop the best ways to support people, so that everyone with autism can fulfil their potential. www.autistica.org.uk

Comparative economic figures:

UK annual figures

Economic cost

Research spend

Spend/person with the condition

Research spend/£1m economic cost






Adults with autism















Heart disease











London School of Economics: Buescher, A., Cidav, Z., Knapp, M., and Mandell, D. 2014. Costs of autism spectrum disorders in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. In press.   

Oxford University: Luengo-Fernandez, R., Leal, J., Gray, A. 2012. UK research expenditure on dementia, heart disease, stroke and cancer: are levels of spending related to disease burden? European Journal of Neurology 2012, 19: 149-154  

Institute of Education: Pellicano, E., Dinsmore, A., and Charman, T. 2013. A Future Made Together: Shaping Autism Research in the UK http://newsletters.ioe.ac.uk/A_Future_Made_Together_2013.pdf 

Autistica: Wallace, S., Parr, J., and Hardy, A. (2013). One in a Hundred: putting families at the heart of autism research. Autistica. www.autistica.org.uk 


Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. This means that the development of the brain and wider nervous system in people with autism differs from typical neurodevelopment. Because of this difference in development, the way in which people with autism think and process information differs to that of the majority of people within the typical population. In particular, this difference affects:

  • the ability to communicate effectively;
  • the ability to secure and maintain effective relationships;
  • the ability to think and act flexibly;
  • the perception and management of sensory stimuli

June 10, 2014