Having children is one of the most expensive things most people will ever do. It’s been estimated that the average household spends over $100,000 on a child’s first 18 years of life, and the on-going expenses can cost substantially more for many people. If your child has special needs, these costs can be exponentially higher.
Nearly one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism, and the figure is close to one in 70 for young boys. Unfortunately, autism isn’t a disease that can be cured. It’s a disorder that affects every part of a child’s growth and development. Even high-functioning autistic children may need ongoing care throughout their lives, and that responsibility may rest on your shoulders as a parent.
If your child has been diagnosed with autism, it’s important to do some research and get a realistic idea of what you’ll be dealing with. You’ll likely be inundated with information about treatments and therapies, and you’ll have to learn practical information about surviving from day to day. You may not have a clear picture of the financial aspects, however, and you will need to make the time to understand them. Only by knowing what’s ahead can you make the right financial decisions to save for it. More importantly, researching the financial aspects can lead you toward finding the assistance that you need to make ends meet.
Special Costs of Raising an Autistic Child
Depending on your child’s level of functionality and any other special needs they may have, you can expect to pay a substantial sum for ongoing medical costs. Therapy will be the biggest component of these expenses. Children require speech therapy, behavioral therapy and occupational therapy in order to develop necessary coping skills. Some doctors advise specialty treatments and therapies utilizing various medications and vitamins. They may also require medical treatments, especially if there are any other secondary conditions.
Depending on your child’s needs, you may also need specialized care, schools, social programs and summer camps. Autistic children have different requirements for social activities than other kids, making it necessary for you to invest time and money into social activities that you could otherwise skip.
You will also need to consider the long-term costs of your child’s care as an adult. While some high-functioning autistic people are able to live fairly normal lives, many are unable to handle independence. Your child may end up living with you indefinitely, or they might need to stay in a special facility. These programs cost money, and you will need to budget for these costs indefinitely.
How Much Does Autism Cost a Family?
Health insurance helps with these expenses, but it doesn’t cover everything. Some insurance companies don’t cover autism at all, and many people are uninsured. Additionally, some costs associated with autism cannot be insured against, such as special education programs or living facilities.
On average, parents of autistic children pay about $1,000 out of pocket every month. These costs can be even higher if they are uninsured or their insurance does not cover the necessary treatments. In the long term, the average lifetime cost of care for an autistic person is $1.4 million according to one estimate from Autism Speaks. If that person has intellectual disabilities, with an I.Q. under 70, that cost rises to $2.3 million. Overall, the United States spends about $137 billion on care for autistic people.
Of course, this is in addition to the standard costs of raising a child. Autistic children have all of the same needs for food, clothes, entertainment and living expenses of any other kids. You can usually add several hundred dollars to the monthly medical expenses to cover these costs.
One estimate suggests that the lifetime cost of raising an average child is about $290,000 while autistic children cost as much as $3,200,000 to raise. Of course, some of this expense is absorbed by insurance, Medicaid, schools and public programs, but the end bill out of pocket is still very steep.
Worse, parents of autistic children usually have lower incomes than other households. On average, families of autistic children make about 28% less than other households. Single parents take an even greater hit, with incomes about 56% lower than those of other families. The reason for this income disparity is that it’s difficult to maintain full-time work and provide sufficient care for your autistic child. Parents may lose time from work or quit their jobs entirely in order to provide care to their children.
Where Can You Go for Help?
The first resource for help is your insurance company. Keep careful records and dispute claims that are unfairly denied. You may win the case and secure more money for your child’s care. As insurance companies are forced to change to accommodate the Affordable Care Act, assistance for autistic children may become easier to obtain, but no one knows for sure what the future will hold.
If you have exhausted the resources from your insurance company, you may be able to get help from one of many different private institutions:
– The National Autism Association provides family support groups, marriage counseling and educational materials about autism. It also offers financial assistants through grants of up to $1,500 to families to provide care to their autistic children.
– Autism Society of America sponsors events for autistic children and their families. These include events, camps, respite care and other activities. They also offer information and news for parents.
– Autism Speaks is one of the best-known resources for information and assistance for autistic families. In addition to providing practical resources and tips, Autism Speaks provides community grants to areas to help advocate autism awareness and provide care to communities.
– Act-Today provides grants to qualifying applicants. You can receive anywhere from $100 to $5,000 to help with medical costs associated with your child’s autism.
– Athletes Helping Athletes provides grants of up to $500 to low-income families who need assistance with special needs children. They provide grants for a wide variety of developmental disabilities in addition to autism.
– Autism cares provides grants of up to $1,000 to families in need. To qualify, you must have an autistic child, an annual income under $40,000 and be suffering sudden hardship.
While these grant programs are not substantial, they can certainly provide assistance to help reduce the strain. Perhaps more importantly, these associations can provide much-needed support and information that can help you adjust to your new lifestyle and reduce the feeling of isolation that can often come with raising a special-needs child. Other parents may also be able to give you suggestions and ideas for ways to keep your expenses low.
When considering your future as the parent of an autistic child, it’s important to take things one day at a time. Consider this as a lifestyle change, not a misfortune, and actively seek assistance whenever you need it. You will need to make a budget and plan for care expenses so that you can set aside enough money to care for your child without sacrificing other necessities in your life. By taking things slowly and methodically, you can begin making the changes necessary to make room in your budget for these costs.