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Child With Autism May Affect Family Income

Study Shows Mothers of Autistic Children Are Less Likely to Be Employed
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 11, 2011 (San Diego) -- Having a child with autism adversely affects family employment and income, new research suggests.

Mothers of children with autism are less likely to be employed than other mothers and likely to earn less when they do work, says researcher David Mandell, ScD, associate director of the Center for Autism Research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Fathers aren't affected in the same ways.

However, family income suffers. "It turns out, autism is also associated with a large reduction of family income -- a 27% reduction in family income," Mandell says. That translates to earnings of $17,640 less than families with children without autism, according to his study.

Mandell presented the findings at the International Meeting for Autism Research in San Diego.

Autism is an autism spectrum disorder, a range of neurodevelopmental disorders marked by difficulties in social and communication skills and repetitive behavior.

Economic Impact of Autism

Mandell used data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey from 2002 to 2007. This annual survey includes information on health care use, costs, work characteristics, and other information for a representative sample of U.S. households.

The researchers identified those children with autism. They then matched children with parents to evaluate the data.

The researchers looked at mothers and fathers separately. They estimated average loss of earnings associated with having a child with autism. They found differences between mothers and fathers in terms of work.

Of the more than 47,000 children living with the mothers surveyed, 147 were diagnosed with autism.

Among the findings:

  • 62% of the mothers with children with autism were employed outside the home, compared to 71% of mothers of other children without autism.
  • Average weekly work hours for mothers of children with autism were 34, compared to 35 for other mothers.
  • Mothers of children with autism earned 39% less than mothers of healthy children.

Of the nearly 35,000 children surveyed whose fathers were present in the home, 113 had autism.

Among the findings:

  • 91% of the fathers of children with autism were employed, while 95% of the other fathers were.
  • Average weekly work hours of the fathers of children with autism were 46; for those without, 44 hours.


Explaining the Income Gap

"A big question," Mandell says of his findings, "is why?"

He speculates that many families raising children with autism ''don't have a care system the way other families do."

For instance, he says, a family raising a child with spina bifida, a congenital abnormality, has a clear pathway through the system and knows what is needed.

However, the needs of children with autism, because the characteristics and severity of symptoms can vary, are not as clear-cut.

The families raising children with autism, Mandell says, ''are cobbling together services, fighting with health insurance."

The efforts may require so much time that someone's job has to give. "I think what is happening is the mother drops out of the labor market to be the case manager for the child," Mandell says.

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