Mothers of school-age children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are twice as likely to be out of work than mothers of children without ASD, and James Cook University researchers have been investigating why.
Associate Professor Emily Callander is a health economist at JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health & Medicine.
Dr Callander said it’s thought that between one and two percent of Australian children have ASD.
“Previous studies have documented the lower rates of labour force participation among parents of children with ASD, despite there being strong encouragement for parents to re-join the labour force as soon as they are able. But no previous studies have looked at why this is,” said Dr Callander.
The team used information from the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Children – a regular survey of 10,000 children and their families that has run since 2004.
They found that both fathers and mothers of children with ASD were more likely to be not working, but the difference was greater with mothers.
“There was little difference between mothers of children with or without ASD up to the time the child was aged six. But from then, mothers with ASD children were significantly more likely to not be in the labour force, and when the child was 8-9 they were 2.5 times more likely not to be in work. Even after adjusting for such factors as education and whether they had been working before the birth.”
She said it was obviously important financially for all families that parents were working, but especially so for families who had ASD members.
“In the UK and the US, researchers found that the life-time costs of supporting a child with ASD were in excess of US $1million in both countries. The largest proportion of costs were attributed to special education services and lost parental productivity.”
Dr Callander said mothers overwhelmingly gave the reason of ‘looking after the child’ as the reason why they were not working.
“This reason was given by all mothers outside the labour force, whether or not their child had ASD. But remember there is a much higher proportion of mothers of school-age children with ASD who are not in paid employment,” she said.
Dr Callander said policymakers should consider how any proposed new policy impacts on the labour force participation of parents of children with ASD, particularly when the children are of schooling age.
“Within Australia, families are no longer eligible to receive family welfare payments from the time their child turns six years of age. Policy and economic signals which penalise parents for not participating in the labour force once their child reaches school age may unfairly impact parents whose child has ASD,” she said.
Dr Emily Callander
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