Education currently accounts for only 6 per cent of the total bill for supporting autistic people, according to new figures from the Institute of Psychiatry. Evidence suggests that even moderate increases in the education of autistic children could result in major savings later, says the Mental Health Foundation, which commissioned the research.
Between five and 10 children in every 10,000 are estimated to suffer from autism, a disorder which affects social and communication skills. Most (60 per cent) are not able to lead independent lives.
The institute's Krister Jarbrin and Professor Martin Knapp looked at the estimated costs relating to people with autism and other autistic disorders such as Asperger's syndrome. These included hospital, health and social services, medication, day-care and family carers' loss of earnings, as well as special education.
For the 75 per cent of autistic people assumed to have additional learning difficulties, the lifetime support cost worked out at pound;2.94m a head. For "higher functioning" sufferers, the cost was nearer pound;785,000.
Dr Jo Borrill, the foundation's clinical research manager, said: "It is a very strong argument for more energy and resources to be directed towards early interventions. We already know that work with children and their families can produce improvements in communication and social behaviour."