BACKGROUND. Parents of children with autism have significant out-of-pocket expenditures related to their child's care. The impact of having a child with autism on household income is not known.

OBJECTIVE. The purpose of this work was to estimate the loss of household income associated with childhood autism using a nationally representative sample.

METHODS. Parents of 11684 children enrolled in kindergarten to eighth grade were surveyed by the National Household Education Survey-After School Programs and Activities in 2005. An autism spectrum disorder was defined as an affirmative response to the questions, “has a health professional told you that [child] has any of the following disabilities? 1) autism? 2) pervasive developmental disorder or PDD?” There were 131 children with autism spectrum disorder in the sample and 2775 children with other disabilities. We used ordinal logistic regression analyses to estimate the expected income of families of children with autism given their education level and demographic characteristics and compared the expected income with their reported income.

RESULTS. Both having a child with autism spectrum disorder and having a child with other disabilities were associated with decreased odds of living in a higher income household after controlling for parental education, type of family, parental age, location of the household, and minority ethnicity. The average loss of annual income associated with having a child with autism spectrum disorder was $6200 or 14% of their reported income.

CONCLUSION. Childhood autism is associated with a substantial loss of annual household income. This likely places a significant burden on families in the face of additional out-of-pocket expenditures.

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