Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cost of Raising a Child with Autism

I was reading an article last night about the challenges of paying for the care of a special needs child when the parents are divorced.  One of the things that caught my eye was this:
Parents of a child with autism, on average, have lifetime earnings of nearly a million dollars less than other parents.
I'm extremely fortunate financially--I earn enough money to be able to pay for a care-giver who is specially trained and has specific experience caring for children and adults with special needs.  Last year I spent about $40,000 on care for Middle Son to make sure that he had appropriate supervision after school and during the summer.  Plus a couple of thousand more for his medical expenses (neurologist, seizure medications, etc.).  And several thousand for social skills groups and other costs for Oldest Son.  My total expenditures related to their special needs were probably close to $50,000.  According to Census data, that's about the median household income in the US.  Very few parents can cover those kinds of expenses.

The author, Karen Czpanskiy, discussed how our family laws don't really address the problems that come up with special-needs children.
Today, divorce law largely ignores the economic problems faced by the divorced parent of a special needs child. We need a new post-divorce remedy, which I am calling "chalimony." It would be available to the parent with whom the disabled or chronically ill child lives most of the time if that caregiver is unable to be employed full-time because of the child's special needs. The child's other parent could avoid paying chalimony if he or she were meeting enough of the child's needs to permit the primary parent to work full-time.
I remember a conversation with my ex shortly after we got divorced in which she complained that she would never be able to work.  Exactly the short of situation that Czpanskiy is envisioning.  Ultimately, we resolved it by having Middle Son move in with me, and I hired a paid caregiver.  But if I hadn't had the financial resources to do that, I don't know how we could have addressed the problem.

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