A few years ago, I shared a statistic showing that it costs almost $200,000 to raise a child, from birth to age eighteen. If that weren’t enough of a financial burden, consider that one out of 88 children are now diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (source, pdf).
Regardless of whether this significant, 78 percent increase in occurrence since the last study is attributed to broader diagnosis, more families are paying for the services a diagnosis of autism requires. Insurance will not cover all costs for therapies associated with autism or autism spectrum disorders. Families will need to pay out-of-pocket for many medical expenses. While the cost of raising a child to age 18 might average around $200,000, dealing with autism could add another $25,000 a year in medical costs.
The expenses don’t end with therapy and doctor’s visits. Beyond medical expenses, parents with children with autism often need to pay for special education, day care, and a home for an autistic adult who can no longer live with his or her parents.
The emotional burden placed on parents of autistic children adds to the financial burden. Parents of children with autism earn significantly less than parents of children who do not have this condition, presumably because the parents have extra responsibilities in competition with the attention they give to their careers. Mothers of autistic children average earnings that are 56% lower than other mothers. Dealing with autism from a financial perspective is doubly difficult due to the increased cost of care and the parents’ lowered income potential.
As a result of the increased financial burden, many parents of children with autism need to resort to going into debt to cover their costs. Today’s expenses may crush any dreams about retirement, and with a second or third mortgage, the costs of paying for housing may last until death.
It’s all very good for financial gurus, bloggers, and authors of books about money management to extol the virtues of saving money, cutting back expenses, and earning more, but sometimes, some families are faced with realities that place them beyond the sphere of accepting mainstream financial advice to improve their financial conditions. Everyone should be out of debt, but an average family earning average salaries with extraordinary needs like those that arise out of autism can’t be addressed by mainstream financial advice.
Experts write about making sacrifices, like forgoing the $6 daily latte and saving $1,500 or so a year. Experts talk about negotiating a raise from your employer. They argue about the best method for getting out of debt. For families dealing with tough financial issues, these discussions are irrelevant. They need support groups, financial assistance, and specialized advice for making the most out of a difficult situation.
And when the biggest issue a family faces is related to health, financial issues become just a secondary concern.
Have you ever dealt with autism or another health issue in your family that required expensive care? Please feel free to share your experiences, particularly with the effect they had on your finances or your philosophy of money.
Updated April 12, 2012 and originally published April 3, 2012.