An Unacceptable Cost
While learning and developmental disabilities can offer unique gifts and perspectives, they also impose significant costs, among them medical care, special education and therapies, diminished productivity, and long-term care.
The limited data available on the economic impacts of learning and developmental disabilities are sobering. For instance, the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism has been estimated at $3.2 million.21 The U.S. spends an estimated $3522 to 6023 billion annually on autism-related costs alone.
Other learning and developmental disabilities also bear hefty price tags. The estimated average lifetime cost for one person with intellectual disability is just over a million dollars.24 A review in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology estimated the annual societal cost of ADHD in children and adolescents to be between $36 and $52 billion (in 2005 dollars), a figure that includes costs for treatment, special education, and parental work loss.25
Yet such statistics are inadequate to capture the emotional and social toll of learning and developmental disabilities on those affected, their families, and their caregivers.
Stephen Boese, MSW, Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State adds, “As a father of four boys, one of whom lived a short life of overwhelming disability, I am keenly aware that prevention of learning and developmental disabilities is both an individual and a community responsibility. The enormous rise in the incidence of these disabilities is coupled with a huge increase and proliferation of chemicals in everyday consumer products. These chemicals are largely untested for human safety and largely unknown to the public.”
If the incidence of learning and developmental disabilities continues to climb, so will the enormous financial and social cost. Are we prepared to invest in sufficient schools, care facilities, and occupational programs to accommodate a society in which 1 in 110 individuals are diagnosed with autism and other learning and developmental disabilities are also common?26
When the U.S. had the political will to remove most lead from the environment, society saved billions of dollars in healthcare costs and gained billions in boosted productivity. We are still seeing the benefits of that choice.2
The CDC reports that as of 2005, nearly half of all Americans live with at least one chronic disease, and these diseases are responsible for 75% of U.S. health care costs.27 A January 2010 report by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Campaign, “The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act,” points out: “Even if chemical policy reform leads to reductions in toxic chemical exposures that translate into just a tenth of one percent reduction of health care costs, it would save the U.S. health care system an estimated $5 billion every year.”28
Phil Landrigan, MD, MSc, of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said, “We could cut the health costs of childhood disabilities and disease by billions of dollars every year by minimizing contaminants in the environment. Investing in our children’s health is both cost-effective and the right thing to do.”29