Autism takes financial toll on families


What does it cost a family to take care of a child with autism? A new study from the International Meeting for Autism Research focuses on how having a child with autism affects a parent's ability to hold down a job. And scientists found something that surprised them.

Karla Garcia is a working mom and has a 5-year-old girl with autism. She deals with unique challenges every day, especially financial ones.

"And then we have to fight with the insurance companies a lot. They deny a lot of things. We have to go through the appeal process. That takes time, so you have to write letters and make phone calls," said Garcia.

That, plus doctor appointments and therapy take so much time she has to cut her work hours. But she wants to be there for her child.

"Often it actually is very costly to hire someone who is experienced enough to care for these kids," said Dr. Alex Chen, Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.

Chen helps parents who have kids with special needs find resources.

Researchers at the International Meeting for Autism Research found mothers of children with autism are less likely to work than other moms of kids with functional disabilities and far less likely to be employed than moms of normally developing kids.

In addition, mothers of children with autism earn 26 percent less than mothers of children with other special needs and 39 percent less than mothers of normally developing children.

The finding that surprised Chen the most was families with autism had a greater financial burden than other parents of kids with special needs.

"I think the new finding is autism seems to be a bit more severe compared to other kids with functional limitations," said Chen.

Time is money. Chen says parents like Karla Garcia do indeed spend more time on their kids' care and therapy. Garcia hopes research like this will help families get more support.

"I think it's important and it provides information to governmental agencies that are creating policies and creating support services for families with autism. So I think it's very, very important, very valuable for the community," said Garcia.

Chen says the impact is far worse on single parents.

The 10th Annual International Meeting for Autism Research officially kicks off Thursday in San Diego. More than 1,900 researchers, clinicians and specialists are expected to gather.

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