Early intervention for signs of autism predicted to cut long-term costs

Posted 1 year ago by David McManus
Image courtesy of Mala Iryna (via Shutterstock)
Image courtesy of Mala Iryna (via Shutterstock)

Early intervention services for babies showing signs of autism could not only reduce the level of disability in later life but also be a significant cost saving according to a new study.

Early intervention services for babies showing signs of autism could not only reduce the level of disability in later life but also be a significant cost saving according to a new study.

These findings are based on 2021 research that suggested that therapy for babies with signs of autism could reduce early developmental disability, to the extent that a childhood diagnosis would be two-thirds less likely.

This evaluation was the world’s first evidence of video therapy for babies as a means of recognising and understanding communication in 9 – 14 month olds.

The latest study showcases how video therapy may be able to provide a more accessible system that can allocate funding carefully.

Researchers at the University of South Australia and Telethon Kids Institute, in partnership with the University of Manchester, La Trobe University, Griffith University and the University of Western Australia, have used the landmark discovery and clinical trial data to assess the costs of ongoing support for children up to 13 years of age.

Their findings predicted that the use of the video therapy (iBASIS-VIPP) during infancy would save $10,695 dollars per child in associated costs, or a three-to-one return on investment in therapy for the NDIS.

Although the predicted cost savings didn’t take the related savings, such as health, education and the parent’s employment, into account, the evaluation did reveal a chance for the NDIS to improve spending in other areas.

“By investing in services early in life for babies showing early autism signs – and thereby reducing levels of disability – the study predicted a net cost savings of $10,695 per child by age 13 years,” said Professor Leonie Segal, lead author of the study and health economist at UniSA.

“The modelling also predicted that savings in support costs associated with disability would balance out therapy costs shortly after the child turned five – just four years after delivery of the therapy.    

“The findings clearly argue the case that investing in early support for babies represents a good investment for the whole community.”

Professor Andrew Whitehouse, the Angela Wright Bennett Professor of Autism Research at Telethon Kids; University of Western Australia and Director of CliniKids, believes that the results of the new model could improve government funding, as more than one-third of NDIS participants have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis.

“I want to make it crystal clear that this is about finding the best use of funds to create the best outcomes for children,” he said.

“Disability associated with autism has cost and quality of life implications for families and may result in extra government spending on areas such as health, education, disability services, and income support.

“The discovery of therapies that reduce the disability experienced by children will often mean that that child requires fewer supports in later childhood. This is fantastic news for the child, their family and the systems that support kids and families.

“This study is about how to provide the right supports to kids and families at the right time and in the right amount. Understanding this is critical in helping to structure systems to support kids and families when they need it.”

Professor Whitehouse added that while ASD is not typically diagnosed until three years of age, the first two years of life can be observed and developmentally optimised for later childhood.

Both professors expressed that pre-emptive therapy can be feasible and effective, while also presenting an opportunity to improve the healthcare system through allocation and planning.

For more information about ASD, you may wish to visit our online information portal for autism.