Economic study confirms growth in autism


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The number of autism cases has soared over the past three decades, leading some to wonder if mental health professionals might be overdiagnosing the disorder.

    Two economists who used market theory to study the trend in autism growth, however, have confirmed that at least part of the increase is real.

    Researchers Jose Fernandez and Dhaval Dave analyzed the number and wages of auxiliary health providers based on California Department of Developmental Services data from 2002 to 2011. Each time autism cases doubled, the number of autism health providers grew by as much as 14 percent over that of non-autism health providers, they found.

    The wages of autism health providers also rose higher, increasing up to 11 percent more.

    “We focused on auxiliary providers because, unlike physicians and psychologists who can diagnose autism, these workers cannot induce their own demand,” Fernandez said.

    The pair also found that although autism supplanted mental retardation in one of every three diagnoses during the period, actual autism cases still grew from 50 percent to 65 percent.

    Fernandez is an economics associate professor at the University of Louisville’s College of Business. Dave is an economics professor at Bentley University and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

    The study, scheduled for publication in the journal Economic Inquiry, appears online at

    For more details, contact Fernandez at 502-852-4861 or