Ever wonder who is funding autism research and where the money is being spent? If you were watching/listening to the IACC meeting this week, you would have answers to a lot of these questions.
To answer the most basic question, the current annual expenditure on autism research in the U.S. is $225,000,000.
Most of us assume (and we are right) that in the US, the Government is the biggest source of research funding. But as it turns out, fully 35% of the research funding for autism in the U.S. is from private sources. That works out to over $78M in autism research funding is from private sources. Pretty impressive.
Anyone want to venture a guess as to who is the largest private source? Autism Speaks would be a good guess. It was mine. A.S. is a respectable second with $31M, but the number one private source of autism funding is the Simons Foundation, with $43M per year.
In case you want to see the entire breakdown of funding sources, here it is:
Autism Funding by Agency
So, now we know where the money is coming from. The next question is “where is it going?” There are pages of detailed information on that in the research portfolio discussed at the IACC, but let’s take the summary view. In specific, NIH collated the research by category. They used the categories from the Strategic Plan:
I. When Should I Be Concerned?
II. How Can I Understand What Is Happening?
III. What Caused This To Happen And Can This Be Prevented?
IV. Which Treatments And Interventions Will Help?
V. Where Can I Turn For Services?
VI. What Does The Future Hold?
All of these categories are important and each of us will have a different view on the priorities. The issues I want to see get more funding involve figuring out how best to support autistics. In order to do so, I feel the research community has to fill a big gap in their knowledge when it comes to adult autistics.
Or, to put it in Strategic Plan categories, I think category V (where can I turn for services) and, mostly, VI (What does the future hold) need more attention and funding. As autism research funding grows, we should be expanding funding in these areas.
How is funding divided now? Well, here’s a pie chart:
Pie chart showing how autism research funding is distributed.
Obviously the funding agencies don’t agree with me on priorities. Category V gets 1% of the funding, and category VI gets 5%.
Let’s put this another way: there are by some estimates roughly 1.5M autistics in the U.S. (I know that’s debated, but let’s go with it for a rough estimate). We are spending about $9M on understanding adults with autism. Roughly, $6 per autistic. Does that make sense?
Or, to put it another way, we have 300M people in the U.S.. Each of us is spending, what, $0.005 (one-half cent) a year on studying adults with autism? Surely we can do better than that.
It is worth stopping for a moment to acknowledge that the Strategic Plan is just getting started. The funding levels shown in the pie chart are going to change as the Plan is implemented. But, will research on adults be given high priority?
There are a lot of blog posts and news stories lately talking about how we as a society are not prepared for the “tidal wave” of autistics about to become adults. If that is your position, why not call for better research on adults? Why not call for the sorts of papers that will help you and your soon-to-be-adult children advocate for better services?