HealthDay News — Mothers of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are more likely to be unemployed, work fewer hours per week and earn significantly less than mothers of children with no health limitations, study results indicate.

“Given the substantial healthcare expenses associated with ASD, the economic impact of having lower income in addition to these expenses is substantial,” Zuleyha Cidav, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and colleagues, reported in Pediatrics. “It is essential to design universal healthcare and workplace policies that recognize the full impact of autism.”

In an effort to examine labor market outcomes for parents of children with ASD compared to parents of children with different or no health limitations, Cidav and colleagues evaluated data from the 2002 to 2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. The analysis included 261 children with an ASD, 2,921 children with another health limitation, and 64,349 children with no health limitations.

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On average, compared with mothers of children who had no health limitations, mothers of children with ASD were 6% less likely to work, worked seven fewer hours and earned 56% ($14,755) less.

There were no statistically significant differences between the groups in labor market outcomes for fathers.

Other study findings are as follows:

  • Compared with mother of children with other limitations, mothers of children with ASD earned 35% ($7,189) less
  • On average, children with ASD were 9% less likely to have parents who were both working
  • Family earnings of children with ASD were 21% ($10,416) less than those of children with another health limitation and 28% ($17,763) less than those of children with no health limitations
  • Weekly hours of work per family were an average of five hours less than those of children with no health limitations

“Families of children with ASD face significant economic burden,” the researchers wrote. “This suggests the need for additional evaluation of available supports for families and specific barriers to optimizing family income.”

Study limitations included inability to account for local labor market conditions, and inability to determine causality due to the study’s cross-sectional design.

Cidav Z et al. Pediatrics. 2012;129: 17-623; doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2700.