Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Thank you for your recent article surrounding the high costs of autism treatment, "Cost of autistic children cripples parents up to $50,000 a yearâ€ (February 12, 2012). We would like to invite your readers to consider this: The human and financial costs of children with autism who do NOT receive adequate treatment can cripple parents for a lifetime. Furthermore, excluding this group of vulnerable children from intensive behavioral treatment may very well result in the Government of Australia paying for their housing when these children reach the age of majority and become wards of the state. There is research demonstrating a savings of one to two million dollars over the lifetime of a person with autism if he or she is provided effective, science-based early intervention when they are children.
This also begs the question as to why children with autism in Australia are not covered for their core health need. We understand that Australia has a governmental health care system that purports to cover all Australian citizens. Why is it that children with autism are excluded from the health care system when it comes to treatment for their autism? This appears to be prima facie discrimination against this vulnerable group of children.
Receiving a diagnosis of autism for a child can be incredibly challenging and overwhelming for many parents. Sadly, as your article illustrates, this is compounded by the struggles to find the money needed to fund needed treatment. Given the financial constraints facing many countries, it is essential that funding sources to make careful decisions about how to best allocate financial resources. More specifically, adequate funds should be allocated for interventions that are based on the best available science and funding for treatments with no published track record of success should be limited. Any discussion about autism costs should recognize that there are hundreds of treatments that are privately and/or publicly funded that have never been shown to be effective through published research; some of these treatments have actually been shown to be harmful.
The scientific literature in autism treatment tells us that children with autism benefit from intensive, systematic, and structured intervention. One hour of intervention per week is a travesty. It is often helpful to compare autism treatment to the treatment of other medical conditions. As a society, we would not tolerate a child with leukaemia only receiving one-tenth of chemotherapy or a child with a streptococcus infection who only received 5 mg versus 100 mg of antibiotics.
The reality is that thousands and thousands of Australian children with autism will soon become thousands and thousands of young adults with autism. Effective intervention while children are school-age can make a huge difference in attenuating family hardship over the lifespan, monies allocated for services in adulthood, and, perhaps more importantly, lost human potential.
Australia can do better!
David Celiberti, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.
Association for Science in Autism Treatment