(PHILADELPHIA) — Mothers of autistic children earn 56 percent less on average than the mothers of children with no health limitations, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. They are also 6 percent less likely to be employed.
“They have to be advocate, lawyer and case manager for their children,” said study author Dr. David Mandell, associate director of the Center for Autism Research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “They learn early on you don’t get what your kids need, you get what you negotiate. Those time commitments result in parents — usually mothers — saying they just can’t manage a job, too.”
The income lag compounds the economic burden of autism, a condition already fraught with out-of-pocket costs.
“There’s a lot of debate about the cost of treating autism and who should pay,” Mandell said. “We really wanted to show the cost of not treating autism, what happens to families when kids are not getting the care they need.”
The study also found that mothers of children with autism earn 35 percent less — $7,189 on average — than parents of children with another health limitation.
“I don’t think there’s anything more challenging per se than the health needs of a child with autism compared to those of a child with cystic fibrosis or cerebral palsy,” Mandell said. “I think what’s different is the system of care. There’s a level of fragmentation for autism services, which means a lot of finger pointing about whose paying.”
Many mothers of children with autism are well-educated, Mandell said.
“What this means, to some extent, is that we’re taking the most educated and potentially most valuable employees out of the work force,” he said. “These are women with a tremendous amount of perseverance, grit and knowledge. If we can figure out a more way for them to remain in the workplace, it would be a real societal boon.”
Instead of employers offering 12 weeks of leave to care for children with chronic conditions, for example, they should have a more flexible approach that allows mothers to run to appointments when necessary, Mandell said.
“They need the flexibility to do these things and still be a contributing member at their place of employment,” he said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio