The Cost of Cure
The essay I Can't Ever Die, on the Autism for Parents website, explains why so many parents are willing to spend these large sums. When they find that their child is autistic, parents often worry about what will happen if the child needs lifelong care. Who will provide for him when they are gone? How can they be sure that he won't end up helpless and destitute in an institution somewhere? This overwhelming fear and anxiety drives many parents to seek cure at all cost, believing that any expense and risk must be justified to save their child from such peril.
Anxiety about the future of one's child seems to be a common experience of parents generally, whether or not the child is autistic. This research study found that parents have significantly higher levels of depression than non-parents and that their depression levels increase as their children get older. The increase was attributed to anxiety about how well the children will be able to take care of themselves.
No doubt these strong emotions had a lot of evolutionary value to our cave-dwelling ancestors by motivating them to ensure that their offspring would be able to survive in society, but in the modern world, such fears often turn out to be both illusory and counterproductive. Let's take a look at what would happen if these parents, instead of spending large sums in a desperate quest to cure their autistic child, chose to put the same amount of money into a trust fund.
I'll assume, for the sake of discussion, that our hypothetical parents are 30 years old when they learn that their 3-year-old son is autistic. They begin contributing $50,000 per year to a trust fund for the child and continue to do so for the next 15 years. Let's suppose it earns an effective interest rate of about 5 percent, after taxes and trust administration fees.
By the time their son is 18 years old, there will be about $1,200,000 in the trust fund. At this point, the parents stop making contributions (they're 45 now, and they need to set aside money for their retirement). Perhaps their son is still living with them, or in a house or apartment nearby, and needs help with some of his daily activities. The money in the trust fund continues to earn interest.
Assuming conservatively that the parents die at age 75 and that they do not leave their son any inheritance by will, other than the family home, he's going to be in good shape financially at age 48, with more than $5,000,000 in the trust fund. Granted, that won't make him wealthy because of inflation, but it will be more than sufficient for a comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle and whatever household help he may need. His future will be secure, even if he never works.
Now let's suppose that, after a happy and stress-free childhood, he naturally develops the skills needed to live on his own (as many autistics do) and to pursue a career. In that case, his parents will have an ample fund for his college education and for helping him to get off to a great start in his adult life.
And the value of being raised in an understanding and accepting family? Priceless.