Dh50,000 per month: How much UAE families spend on caring for autistic children

The financial cost of autism care in the GCC is significant, with families facing substantial expenses for treatment and education

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Ashwani Kumar

Published: Tue 2 Apr 2024, 7:36 PM

Last updated: Wed 3 Apr 2024, 11:51 AM

Parenting a child with autism presents distinctive challenges, particularly in the face of escalating living costs. UAE families may bear a monthly financial expenditure of up to Dh50,000 to raise a child with autism, according to an expert from PwC Middle East.

Marking World Autism Day, PwC Middle East has released a comprehensive report titled ‘From awareness to action – Elevating autism care in the GCC for meaningful change’ exploring autism spectrum disorder in the GCC region.


According to the report, the true prevalence of autism in the GCC is still uncertain, as conflicting studies suggest varying rates. Autism rates in Bahrain, for instance, are reported to be as low as 4.3 per 10,000 children while in Saudi Arabia, Oman and UAE these rates range between 20-29 per 10,000, and more than 30 in Qatar and Kuwait.

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The report pointed out that the financial cost of autism care in the GCC is significant, with families facing substantial costs for treatment and education.

Lina Shadid, health industries lead at PwC Middle East, said the economic and social impacts of autism spectrum disorder in the UAE are multifaceted.

“Families face a considerable financial burden, with costs encompassing healthcare, specialised education, and therapeutic services,” Shadid told Khaleej Times.

Lina Shadid

According to the report, even the core diagnostic and therapeutic services for autism are high – ranging between Dh450 to Dh1,000 per hour in the UAE. Similarly, in Saudi Arabia, fees for autism specialists range from SAR100 to SAR600 per appointment.

“Our research indicates that families in the UAE can spend upwards of Dh1 million over four years on care and education for a child with autism. For other families, monthly expenses can reach Dh50,000 when combined with school fees, a shadow teacher, speech/language therapy, and so on.”

Shadid underlined that very few insurers will contribute much, if at all, to the list of additional care costs. “This financial strain is compounded by the emotional and logistical challenges of navigating a very complex healthcare system, where multiple disciplines are required to provide comprehensive care, and also when accessing quality specialist care.”

Profound social impact

Shadid said the stigma associated with autism spectrum disorder and a lack of widespread public awareness can lead to isolation for individuals with autism and their families.

“A lack of community support was cited as one of the most common themes from our interviews, not only for those with autism to feel more accepted and inclusive, but also for the families as carers who need a safe space to express frustrations, seek guidance and emotional sustenance, and feel heard and supported so they too less isolated in their journey.”

UAE’s effective initiatives

The GCC countries are taking significant strides toward improving autism care through community engagement, comprehensive services, specialised programmes and autism research. The UAE has established dozens of specialised centres in education and rehabilitation across the country.

Shadid underlined that the initiatives taken in the UAE, including inclusive education policies and community support programmes, are positive steps towards integrating individuals with autism into society and improving their quality of life.

“These promising initiatives now need to be built upon, with expanded training programmes for specialist care providers and greater enhancement of accessibility and capacity in autism centres. There needs to be more attention given to support provided as a child with autism transitions into adulthood, so that they do not then feel abandoned, but have the support and resources at hand to continue to empower and enrich their lives throughout adulthood.”

Potential cost savings

Shadid highlighted that early intervention for autism spectrum disorder has been shown to lead to significant improvements in the prognosis and overall well-being of individuals with autism, which can translate into substantial cost savings over the long term.

“By providing early, targeted support, we can reduce the need for more intensive – and expensive – services later in life as well as increase an individual’s independence and decrease their reliance on support services.”

Shadid noted that early intervention improves the integration of individuals with autism into mainstream educational systems.

“Individuals who receive early intervention may have better job prospects and the ability to contribute economically in the future. This increased chance of achieving independence and fulfilment will also create positive ripples across the individual’s care and support networks, ultimately freeing up some of the time and financial resources parents and other family members may have otherwise needed to spend.”

Shadid pointed out that the PwC’s study for the report involved a comprehensive approach, including interviews with several families caring for children and teenagers living with autism in the GCC.

“We interviewed healthcare professionals, including psychologists, educational psychologists, and behavioural therapists across the GCC. Most of our interviewees reside in the UAE,” she underscored.

Calling for action in key areas, the report sought greater focus on early detection and intervention, access to care, community support, policy and financial support, and research and digital innovation.


Ashwani Kumar

Published: Tue 2 Apr 2024, 7:36 PM

Last updated: Wed 3 Apr 2024, 11:51 AM

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