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Autism Costly to Families

Survey Finds Heavy Burden on Jobs, Finances
December 01, 2008


By Lindsey Tanner, Associated Press

CHICAGO - More than 500,000 U.S. children have autism with costly health care needs that often put a financial strain on families, national data show.

Compared with other parents whose youngsters have chronic health care needs, those with autistic children are three times likelier to have to quit their jobs or reduce work hours to care for their kids. They pay more for their children's health needs, spend more time providing or arranging for that care and are likelier to have money difficulties, the study found.

"This is the first national survey that looked at the impact on families of having kids with special health care needs," said lead author Michael Kogan, a researcher with the government's Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

The results are from a nationally representative 2005-06 survey of almost 40,000 children with special health care needs. These children have a broad range of chronic conditions, including physical and mental illness, requiring medical care more extensive than usual.

A total of 2,088 children with special health needs had autism, which can be extrapolated to about 535,000 kids ages 3 to 17 nationwide, the study authors said.

The study was reported in December's Pediatrics, to be released today.

Autism typically involves poor verbal communication, repetitive behaviors such as head-banging, and avoidance of physical or eye contact. Affected children often need many more types of treatment — including speech and behavior therapy and sometimes medication — than kids with other chronic conditions.

Some states require insurers to cover certain autism treatments.

Similar requirements have been proposed and are being considered in other states.