The Cost of Autism and the Value of a Meaningful Internship
This post is by Alison Komorowski, an Autism Speaks intern. Alison is a senior at The College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass, majoring in Economics with a Pre-Medical concentration. For the third year in a row, Autism Speaks has participated in the The College of Holy Cross Summer Internship Program. The highly competitive program provides exceptional Holy Cross sophomores and juniors with an opportunity to gain meaningful career related experience in an area related to a student’s occupational goals.
This afternoon at a lunch to commemorate the end of my summer internship at Autism Speaks, a colleague asked me if this was the first internship I’d ever had. I told her no, that I had interned part-time with a wedding planning business during spring of my sophomore year and went home that summer to shadow a local family dentist. She, like many others who I’ve told this to, looked confused as she tried to find the common thread among wedding planning, dentistry and the work I have done this summer at Autism Speaks. I went on to explain that I have yet to discover what career field I want to be in, so every time something sparks my interest I do my best to expose myself to the realities of that profession. Naturally, the follow up question was what was it that “sparked my interest” to lead me to Autism Speaks?
The answer is quite simple. Last summer I followed Alice Simcoe-Matthews’ blog as she chronicled her experience as the science intern at Autism Speaks. Through her posts I was introduced to the organization and I fell in love. With two cousins on the spectrum, I have a personal vested interest in Autism Speaks’ mission and I was impassioned at the thought of working to give a voice to those who so desperately need to be heard. As spring semester rolled around I eagerly anticipated the e-mail from the Summer Internship Program with details on how to apply. When it finally came through my inbox I read the project description for this year’s intern: Etiology intern to complete a literature research project on the economic impact on autism on society, and how intervention may influence that costs. As an Economics major in the Pre-Medical program I literally thought “this would be perfect!” I had the opportunity to interview with the science team and a week later I received an invitation to join Autism Speaks as their etiology intern, which I was more than thrilled to accept.
I could not have imagined in the weeks leading up to my first day what my experience at Autism Speaks would be like. The very morning I arrived I began working on my project which involved hours upon hours of searching for literature, reading through articles and most importantly, absorbing, understanding, and analyzing all the information I came across. Thankfully, the members of the science team were amazing mentors who let me know from day one that they were always available as a resource if I needed them. Before I knew it, I was writing a report that may eventually reach the desks of senior scientists in the fields of public health, health economics, and autism services research.
The final product, The Cost of Autism: Improving our Understanding of the Economic Impact of Autism in the Context of Early Detection among the Global Autism Community, is intended to provide the background that will allow investigators in the field to make recommendations on how to approach future cost of autism studies. It highlights the gaps in information that currently prevent a comprehensive measure of the costs of autism and makes suggestions as to how we might address these issues. Today, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been dubbed an urgent public health crisis by the CDC. Autism affects 1 in 110 children and 1 in 70 boys in the United States[i] and the estimated annual economic cost of autism to society is a staggering $35 billion![ii] Now, more than ever, ASD demands the attention of both public and private sectors. However, current estimates of autism’s cost to individuals, families, and society do not measure the impact that early diagnosis and intervention may have on reducing such costs. With this important information, policymakers can further advocate for members of the autism community by making informed decisions about resource allocation to enhance access to appropriate treatments. My hope is that this report can indirectly serve as an instrument for the advocacy and betterment of individuals living with and affected by ASD.
A few weeks ago as I was on my way up to my cubicle on the third floor someone in the elevator looked at the Autism Speaks’ puzzle piece pin on my shirt and asked, “So, are you a piece of the puzzle?” Although I didn’t say it out loud, I thought to myself “I sure hope so.” I stepped out of the elevator and walked into work that morning smiling as I thought about all the people at Autism Speaks, the work they do each day and the amazing things this organization has accomplished in just five years. Am I a piece of the puzzle? I think we all are. Anyone who visits the Autism Speaks website, attends a walk, organizes a fundraiser, or cares for someone with autism is adding a piece to the puzzle that was once missing. I feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to contribute to the mission of Autism Speaks, not to mention an internship experience that may actually help me find the career path I’ve been looking for.
[i] Center for Disease Control and Prevention, MMWR. (2009). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders-Autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, United States, 2006 (58(SS10); pp1-20). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved June 9, 2010 from http://cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5810a1.html