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Mothers of Autistic Children Suffer in the Workplace

As any working mom will tell you, balancing a family and a career can be a challenge.  Kids’ dental visits, doctor’s appointments and school responsibilities often must be dealt with during business hours, creating a conflict between a mother’s personal and professional life.  But when your child has autism, those conflicts can be more frequent and ultimately more costly to your career.

In a study by Researchers at Washington State University Vancouver, more than half the moms surveyed said they worked fewer hours in order to care for an autistic child.  Three out of five had turned down jobs because of their family responsibilities.  And one quarter reported turning down promotions and taking leaves of absence in order to care for an autistic child.

According to lead author of the study, Dana Baker, even in homes with two working parents, caring for an autistic child negatively impacts a mother’s career more than a father’s.

But while employers could work around the extra appointments and the conflicts they create, Baker says many don’t.  Rather than accommodate, they reprimand.  And considering the fact that as many as one in 150 children are affected by the neurological disorder, the study’s authors say this is an issue that can no longer be ignored.

“Understanding how to adapt programs and policies to better fit the more intractable challenges of these parents represents a vital responsibility of the twenty-first century.”

Of course, flexible workplaces would benefit all working parents, not just those who have children with special needs.  But to those who might suggest that perhaps these moms would be better off if they just stayed home and cared for their autistic children full time, consider this:  60% of the mothers surveyed report having suffered financial difficulties in the past year.  Clearly they need to work.  And needing extra time to meet their children’s medical and emotional needs should not prevent them from meeting their financial needs as well.

Image: Chris. P/Flickr

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