New study highlights autism's burden on family incomes

Elizabeth Landau


Raising children brings financial challenge for many families, but especially for parents of children with autism. And the magnitude of that burden is a lot bigger than you may think.

A new study in the journal Pediatrics finds that overall earnings in families with children with autism are 28% ($17,763) less compared to families whose children do not have health limitations, and 21% ($10,416) less compared to families with children with other health limitations.

The dichotomy is striking in the mothers' income: Mothers of children with an autism spectrum disorder tend to earn 35% less than mothers who have children with different health limitations - in fact, $7189 less - on average. Compared to mothers of children who do not have health limitations, those with autistic children earn 56% less, which translates to an average difference of $14,755. There was no average difference in fathers' incomes, however.

Families in which a child has an autism spectrum disorder are 9% less likely to have both parents working than other families.

About 1 in 110 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder. Autism is a developmental condition characterized by difficulties in social interaction, language and behavior; symptoms usually start before age 3. There is no cure for autism, and behavioral interventions are quite costly. But experts say earlier treatment is better.

A person with autism costs an average of $3.2 million to society over his or her lifetime, according to a 2007 study. Adult care and lost productivity are the biggest sources of that amount.

Researchers wanted to look at the cost from a different angle: The effect on family earnings.

Using a large nationally representative survey, researchers identified 261 children with autism spectrum disorders. They also included 2,921 children with another health limitation and 64,349 children without a health limitation.

The income discrepancy among families with a child with autism is likely due to mothers leaving the workforce and taking lower-paying jobs, said study co-author David Mandell.

These mothers aren't just staying at home to take care of their children with autism, says Mandell, associate director of the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the University of Pennsylvania. They're on the phone arguing with their insurance company about getting services, going to multiple meetings about school, and shuttling kids from provider after provider.

Full article from CNN.com here


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