Intensive behavioural interventions based on applied behaviour analysis (ABA) for young children with autism: A cost-effectiveness analysis

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BACKGROUND: The economic and social costs of autism are significant. This study evaluates the cost-effectiveness of early intensive Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)-based interventions for autistic pre-school children in the UK.

METHODS: A de novo economic analysis was developed in Microsoft Excel comparing early intensive ABA-based interventions compared with treatment as usual (TAU). The analysis used 15.5-year time horizon, with costs and benefits discounted a 3.5%. The model structure was based on cohort structure to capture changes in adaptive behaviour and cognitive ability over time. The analysis was informed by an individual patient data (IPD) meta-analysis of available evidence.

RESULTS: Adopting a public sector perspective, early intensive ABA-based therapies were associated with greater incremental costs and greater benefits. When pessimistic assumptions were made regarding the long-term effects of treatment incremental costs were £46,103 and incremental quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) were 0.24, resulting in an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) of £189,122 per quality-adjusted life year (QALY). When optimistic assumptions were made about long-term effects, incremental costs were £39,233 with incremental benefits of 0.84 QALYs. The resulting ICER was £46,768 per QALY. Scenario analyses emphasised the importance of assumptions made regarding adult outcomes and type of school attended, both of which significantly affect the results of the analysis.

CONCLUSIONS: The results of this economic analysis suggest that early intensive ABA-based interventions are unlikely to represent value for money, based on a £20,000 to £30,000 per QALY threshold typically adopted to inform UK healthcare funding decisions. However, important gaps in the available evidence, limit the strength of the conclusions that can be drawn from the presented analysis. Further research, focusing on the trajectory of autistic children following intervention is likely to be highly beneficial to resolving some of these uncertainties.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0270833
Number of pages20
JournalPLOS one
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022 Hodgson et al


  • Adult
  • Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Autistic Disorder/therapy
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Health Care Costs
  • Humans
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years

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