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Reports finds financial challenges facing households of children with autism

Mother helping with homework to her son

An autism diagnosis can present a number of challenges for families from learning about the neurodevelopment disability and accessing support services and resources to financial struggles.

A new report from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University highlighted the financial challenges facing households of children with autism in the United States. According to the report, households of children with autism experience higher levels of poverty, material hardship and medical expenses than households of children with other special health care needs.

The report also found that over half of children with autism live in low-income households (household income below 200% of the federal poverty level, or FPL, with an income of $48,500 four a family of four) and 30% live in very low-income households (household income below 100% of the FPL, $24,250 for a family of four).

Families living in poverty have fewer resources to spare and are especially vulnerable in the face of burdens like care-related expenses, reduced earnings from taking time off work to cope with caregiving, and disconnection from services and supports.

“I have talked with countless families of children with autism over the past 20 years who are struggling with the dual challenge of parenting a child with special needs AND covering the basic needs of the entire family. Our hope for this Indicators Report is that it will raise awareness and spark discussion about the ways in which families are struggling and need our collective societal support.” said Paul Shattuck, director of the Autism Institute’s Life Course Outcomes Program and co-author of the report

Safety net programs can help to offset financial challenges through the provision of monetary support and increased access to social services and programs. However, the current understanding of safety net program use among households of children with autism is limited. And few population-level studies have described the characteristics of children with ASD from low-income households.

The report found households of children with ASD experienced material hardships (not being able to consume goods and services that are deemed minimally necessary) much more often than parents of children with other special health care needs and children with no special health care needs. Nearly half reported difficulty paying for basics like food or housing. Almost one-third had to reduce work to care for their child with autism. About one in five families had problems paying for their child’s health care and roughly 15% had difficulty affording food for the family.

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