March 19, 2012 -- Families of autistic children in the U.S. earn almost $18,000 less, on average, than families of normally developing children. And the mom's pay takes the biggest hit, a new study shows.
Mothers with autistic children earned less than half that of moms whose children had no health limitations, largely because fewer were employed and those who were tended to work shorter hours.
The study is the first to examine the impact of raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder on a family's income. It confirms that parents often face the double hit of huge costs to get their children the care they need with less money to pay for it, says researcher David Mandell, ScD.
Mandell is associate director of the Center for Autism Research at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"We found that moms tended to take lower-paying jobs or work fewer hours to have the flexibility to care for their children," he tells WebMD.
Fathers' employment and income was not affected, according to the study.
Moms of Kids With Autism Earn Less
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) include a range of developmental disabilities related to social interactions and communication, from mild Asperger's syndrome on one end of the spectrum to severe disability on the other.
According to the CDC, 1 in 110 children in the United States -- including 1 in 70 boys -- has an ASD, with rates increasing dramatically in recent years.
Outcomes are best when children with autism get intensive behavioral treatments starting early in life, but such interventions are expensive and may not be covered by insurance, says Peter Bell of the support and advocacy group Autism Speaks.
"Literally every day we hear from parents who are trying to figure out how to pay for the care their children need," Bell says. "Families can pay $50,000 a year and even more out of pocket for this care."
In the new study, published today in the journal Pediatrics, researchers analyzed data from nationally representative surveys of families conducted between 2002 and 2008.
After accounting for other factors that could influence family income, the analysis revealed that:
- Families with an autistic child earned, on average, 28% ($17,763) less annually than families with children having no chronic health issues and 21% less ($10,416 less) than families with children who had other health issues.
- Mothers of children with ASD earned an average of 35% ($7,189) less than mothers of children with another health limitation and 56% ($14,755) less than mothers of children with no health limitations.
- Moms with autistic children were 6% less likely to be employed, and they worked an average of seven hours less each week, compared to mothers whose children had no major health issues.
Autism Families: More Costs, Less Income
Twenty-nine states have passed laws requiring health insurers to pay for behavioral health services related to ASD, and the impact of the sweeping federal health care law passed in 2010 on autism coverage is still being worked out, Mandell says.
"Many, many families are still spending a lot of money out of pocket for these services," he says. "When you consider the income loss along with these expenses, this is a real economic hit for these families."
While more insurance companies are paying for autism treatments, many state-funded services for people with autism have been cut as a consequence of the recession, says Anne Holmes, MS, of the Autism Society.
"Families often can't get needed services until they are in crisis, and this ends up costing society much more in the long run," she tells WebMD.