Raising a Child With Autism and Balancing a Career Isn't Easy: Special Needs Living

Suzanne Murray

working motherEvery week, guest blogger Katie Olson (aurorabunny), mom to 3-year-old Brody, shares the ongoing struggles and triumphs that often come with parenting a child with special needs.

Today, Katie gives her take on a new study that blames employers of moms of kids with autism for making it difficult for them to succeed in the workplace.

Those of you who have a child with autism may be thinking, This is news? But a new study has confirmed what many of us already know: Working mothers of children with autism suffer in the workplace.

Researchers at Washington State University Vancouver found that more than half of the moms they 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 25 percent reported turning down promotions -- and taking leaves of absence -- in order to care for an autistic child.

Dana Baker, the lead author of the study, reprimands employers for not being more understanding, and though this may be an odd stance coming from the mother of a child with autism -- I'm not entirely sure I agree with her.

First, I think employers are not understanding enough of PARENTS, period. Be it mothers or single fathers -- most companies like to blab about how "family-oriented" their corporations are, yet act like you're calling in with a hangover when you tell them you won't be in because you have an ill child. 

That said, I'm not exactly sure what employers could do to make things more accommodating for those of us who have children with special needs. While it would be wonderful to have the privilege of working for a company that allows a little extra time off to parents of children with special needs (especially when those special needs cause physical illnesses, which autism often does) or a company that would be open to a flexible schedule -- I wouldn't expect it. 

The bottom line is that working while you have a child with autism is TOUGH, period. My husband and I pretty much figured out early on that one of us would be staying home, depending on who could earn the most money. Having a non-verbal child, I'm not okay with the idea of any type of daycare right now and neither is my husband. And while I thought that running my own business and being my own boss would give me a great edge in flexibility compared to working for someone else (it does to an extent), there are plenty of days where autism-related problems arise and there's nothing I can do about them.

I can't very well call in sick to myself because there are deadlines to meet and money we can't afford to miss out on. This has taught me that those same deadlines and financial opportunities extend out from the smallest businesses to the largest corporations, and some employers may literally only be able to afford being forgiving up to a certain point. Don't get me wrong, employers who actually stand behind their "your family comes first" spiel rock.

When you have a child with special needs, some things just are what they are, and that often means things are tougher. I also have to say that I think this situation is temporary. Current statistics say that 1 in 150 children (as many as 1 in 70 boys) are being diagnosed with autism, so 30 years from now, the workforce may very well be governed and staffed by individuals who are autistic themselves.

So while taking a few hours off because a routine got disrupted and someone had a core meltdown may seem far-fetched to your boss right now, I could see it being a completely legit reason to be late in the not so distant future.

Do you think moms of kids with autism have it harder in the workplace than other moms? Should employers give them special consideration?


Image via michaeljung/shutterstock

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