New research confirms what many families know too well: Having a child with autism has a major impact on family income. Moms, in particular, earn significantly less if they have a child on the autism spectrum, according to findings published today in the online version of the journal Pediatrics.
Mothers are often the primary caregiver and called upon to serve as their child’s case manager and advocate, explains senior author David Mandell, Sc.D., associate director of the Center for Mental Health Policy & Services Research at the University of Pennsylvania. Because of these additional responsibilities, these women are less likely to work, work fewer hours per week, and earn substantially less. U-Penn medical economist Zuleyha Cidav, Ph.D., was the study’s lead author.
On average, mothers of children with ASD earn 56 percent less than mothers of children with no health limitations. They earn 35 percent less than mothers of children with another health limitation. They are 6 percent less likely to be employed, and they work an average of seven hours less per week.
Fathers’ earnings were not significantly affected, but overall family earnings were 28 percent less than those of families whose children had no health limitations. The impact of a child’s ASD on a mother’s earnings may be even greater than reported here, the authors note, because mothers of children with ASD tend to be older and more educated. This suggests that their potential earnings should be greater, not less than, those of mothers in general.
This is one of the first studies to go beyond autism’s healthcare-related costs to its economic effects on families. Dr. Mandell and his research team are currently preparing the results of a comprehensive autism costs analysis funded with a grant from Autism Speaks. As part of this analysis, the scientists will also be studying how intensive behavioral interventions for preschoolers and vocational interventions for teens and young adults can reduce autism’s economic burden on families and society.
“It is so unfair that mothers are financially burdened in this way. We must provide the support and services that families need and deserve. We are working hard to create greater access to these services in a way that will lessen the financial burden on families,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D.
Please also see "Autism and Family Income: A Mom's Story" for a personal perspective on this news report.
For related news, please read coverage featuring comments by Peter Bell, executive vice president for programs and services at Autism Speaks, from The Huffington Post, CNN.com, HealthDay and WebMD. For a real mom's perspective, please see today's science blog. You can explore a variety of Autism Speaks funded studies on economic factors and health services here and here.