Autism Takes Grim Financial Toll on Families, Especially Moms

Filed under: In The News, Special Needs

financial toll

Mothers suffer the most financially from having an autistic child, according to U.S. News & World Report. Credit: Getty Images

Imagine being a child with autism.

Even in the mildest cases, you constantly feel out of sync with the rest of the world, plagued by constant reminders that you just don't fit in. Your mind is like a radio with no volume control or off switch, but with all the stations coming in at once at full blast.

It must be so frustra ...

Never mind that. Parents are the ones who really have it rough. Having an autistic child often means making less money, and mothers suffer the most, according to U.S. News & World Report.

"Mothers are taking lower-paying, more flexible jobs, so that they can spend more time taking care of their autistic children," David S. Mandell, an associate professor of mental health services research in psychiatry, tells the magazine.

Mandell and other researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found autism exacts a heavy financial toll on parents. Especially mothers. While Dad goes blithely on his life career, Mandell tells the magazine, it's the mother who often shoulders the financial burden.

"It is not because autism is more impairing to the child than some of those other health limitations, but the system that cares for children with autism is so fragmented it requires mothers to act as case managers for their children in a way that doesn't happen with children with other disorders," Mandell tells U.S. News.

Mandell and his fellow researchers are scheduled to present their findings next week at the International Meeting for Autism Research in San Diego.

Researchers examined data on families from the federal government's Medical Expenditures Panel Survey and found mothers of autistic kids were 5 percent less likely to have a job than the mothers of children with other chronic health problems -- and 12 percent less likely to have jobs than mothers of mainstream kids.

Mothers of autistic kids also earned about $6,300 a year less than mothers of kids with other health conditions and $11,540 less than mothers of mainstream kids.

Fathers were unaffected.

"The labor market costs associated with having a child with autism are very substantial -- more substantial than with a child with other health limitations," Mandell tells the magazine. "When we are thinking about developing workplace policies and insurance policies we have to take those costs into account. Otherwise, that's a huge economic toll for the U.S. in general."

Financial stress is just part of the package for parents with autistic kids, Jeffrey P. Brosco, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami, tells the magazine.

"But there is a lot of research in the past that says the stress on families with children with autism is extraordinary and is even greater than that of other chronic conditions," he says, commenting on the Pennsylvania study.

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