AutismAutism spectrum disorder (ASD) represents a group of lifelong neurodevelopmental disorders emerging during early childhood and interfering with a person’s ability to socially relate to and interact with others.

As of 2010, there were an estimated 52 million cases of ASD worldwide, representing a substantial increase over the past 40 years. Meanwhile, the economic impact of ASD in the United States (US) alone – based on direct medical, direct non-medical and productivity costs – reached an estimated $268 billion in 2015, a figure that is expected to rise to $461 billion by 2025.  ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders also affect the quality of life of those with the conditions, as well as of their families and caregivers.

The new report ‘Autism: a global framework for action’, provides an overview of ASD and the challenges we face globally in supporting and caring for those with the condition.

Report focus

This report offers policy recommendations to improve support for children with ASD, their families, and communities.

The causes of ASD are not clear-cut, but evidence suggests that multiple genetic risk factors and environmental factors, including prenatal exposure to drugs, pesticides and viruses, play a role. 

Report insights

To date, 86.5 percent of all ASD cases have been reported in high-income countries, where only 20 percent of the population resides. However, this likely reflects a lack of population-based studies in low- and middle income countries, potentially underestimating the number of cases in these countries and under-representing the impact of ASD worldwide.

Policymakers must increase awareness and rates of early diagnosis; ensure that children with ASD have access to evidence-based therapies; implement family support systems; support access to public education, vocational training and assisted employment; and participate in high quality research and surveillance.

The report proposes three primary policy recommendations for policymakers to support a multi-sector response to ASD that encompasses health, education and social services:

  • Create an interagency coordinating commission to address ASD nationally.
  • Establish interdisciplinary training and research centres for excellence in ASD and neurodevelopmental disorders across the lifespan.
  • Establish a global partnership framework to address ASD and neurodevelopmental disorders across the lifespan.

Further Reading

Read the full report here.

Read all the WISH forum reports here.

Forum Chair: Kerim Munir, MD, MPH, D.Sc., Director of Psychiatry in the University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disorders, Boston Children’s Hospital

L Suzanne Suggs

Kerim Munir, MD, MPH, D.Sc., is Director of Psychiatry in the University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disorders at the Boston Children’s Hospital. He is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Society Fellow in Global Health in the Scholars in Medicine Program at Harvard Medical School. His research focuses on developmental psychopathology and developmental epidemiology with specific emphasis on autism spectrum and intellectual developmental disorders. Currently he is director of the Fogarty International Center and National Institute of Mental Health funded Non-Communicative Diseases (NCD) Across the LIFESPAN Global Mental Health and Neurodevelopmental Disorders program and the Fogarty International Center funded Research Ethics Initiative at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is the recipient of many awards including the Klaus Peter Award in International Medical Education from Harvard Medical School (2006), the International Award for contributions to Research Capacity Development by the National Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Association in Turkey (2008), the George Tarjan Award in Developmental Disabilities by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2011), and T. Berry Brazelton Award in Pediatric Innovation by the Boston Children’s Hospital (2013). He is currently Chair of the Section of Psychiatry of Intellectual Disability / Intellectual Developmental Disorders in the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), a Vice-President of the International Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professionals (IACAPAP) and a member of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Committee on Autism and Intellectual Disabilities