Parents of children with autism are more likely to remain in the workforce if they have access to Medicaid waiver services for their kids, new research suggests.

In a study looking at over 17,000 children on the spectrum, researchers found a link between the availability of waivers and parent employment.

What’s more, the level of services provided by such waivers further influenced the likelihood of moms and dads staying on the job.

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“Parents of children with ASD were significantly more likely to stop working because of their child’s condition than parents of children without ASD. However, we found that Medicaid (home and community-based services) waivers can alleviate this burden,” wrote researchers from Penn State, the University of Pennsylvania and the RAND Corporation in their findings published this month in the journal Health Affairs.

For the study, researchers looked at data collected in 2005-2006 and 2009-2010 through the National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs, a nationally-representative telephone survey of parents asking about their kids ages 17 and under.

Parents were asked about any conditions their children had, including autism, and if a member of their family had stopped working due to a child’s special needs.

Information from the survey was then cross-referenced with details about state Medicaid home and community-based services waivers. Of the 35 states represented in the sample, nine had waivers targeting children with autism during at least part of the time period studied.

More than 37 percent of parents of children on the spectrum reported that a family member stopped working because of their child’s needs. By comparison, the study found only 12 percent of parents of those with asthma said they exited the workforce.

In states with waivers, researchers found that parents of kids with autism were less likely to indicate that they had left their jobs. However, family experiences varied depending on the particulars of the waiver program in their state and their household income level.

Those with lower incomes benefited most in states offering more generous waiver services while higher earning families saw the biggest gains in states that allowed more children to enroll in their program.

Providing supports so that parents of those with autism can remain employed offers more than just an economic benefit, according to Douglas Leslie, a professor of public health sciences and psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine who led the study.

“Caring for a child with autism is difficult,” Leslie said. “Having an outlet through a job can be very beneficial to the parent’s mental well-being. It gets them out into the community.”

Leslie said he hopes that policymakers take the study findings into consideration when determining what types of Medicaid services to offer those with the developmental disorder.

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