Should You Quit Your Job to Help Your Autistic Child?

Mother hugging autistic son and guide dog
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When your child is diagnosed with autism — typically between the ages of 2 and 4 — life seems to go into overdrive. There are doctor's appointments to arrange, therapists to visit, home aides to manage. There are books and websites to read, information to review...and, perhaps most importantly, your at-home time with your child suddenly becomes "therapy" time. Instead of relaxing in front of a video or hanging out in the backyard, you're working with your child to build communication skills, social skills, and play skills.

It's not easy to take on a whole new world of responsibilities while also providing your employer with your full time, focused attention.

If you're a single parent, there's a good chance that you have no choice but to take the services offered to you through your school district or local agency, and do your best to provide more when you get home from work. And, most of the time, your child will be just fine. While the school, early intervention, or county program may not be the "Cadillac" of therapies, it's likely to include several different types of therapies, offered by trained staff, and your focused time when you get home will help fill in any gaps.

How to Think About Quitting a Job to Care for an Autistic Child

For coupled parents, the choices are trickier. In many cases, assuming you're willing to make sacrifices, it is possible for one parent to quit his or her job to care for an autistic child which means there's a decision to be made.

If you're a man, chances are you feel somewhat less pressure to quit your job in order to be available to your child with autism. That doesn't mean, however, that the idea doesn't cross your mind. In some cases, particularly when Mom earns more or has the job with benefits, becoming a full-time autism Dad may be a realistic and reasonable option.

If you're a woman (and part of a couple), chances are you feel a stronger push toward becoming a full-time special needs Mom. After all, plenty of moms do quit their jobs in order to be available to their typical kids, and your child needs so much more than a typical youngster.

How do you make that decision?  Here are a few factors to consider:

  1. Can you really afford it? If you quit your job tomorrow, would your partner's salary pay for the life you're leading? If not, are there viable, comfortable alternatives that would work well for you (sharing space, cutting back on expenses, etc.)? If the answer is no, don't do it: your child won't be well served by a parent who is constantly worried about making ends meet.
  2. Does your child really need your full-time attention? Some children with autism are able to function quite well in typical settings and need relatively little therapy outside of the school setting, while others have more challenging behaviors and needs.
  3. How good are school-based and government-provided services in your area? If you live in a metropolitan area, or in some specific parts of the country and world, your child will have automatic access to ABA, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, social skills therapy, and/or wraparound support without you, the parent, spending a great deal of time setting it up or making it happen. In other areas, it's really all up to you to advocate, pay, and/or provide therapies.
  1. How do you feel about being your child's full-time companion? It's nice to think that all parents are ready, willing, and able to spend the day with an autistic child, but the truth is that it's a tough gig. Sure, most parents are able to provide a few hours of at-home therapy, but 12 or 18 hours a day is a lot of time. If you find the thought daunting rather than energizing, you and your child may be better served by taking advantage of professional services. And, if you're working, you can pay for them.
  2. How do you feel about quitting your job? Some people actively love their career and their office mates while others are actively considering a job change. If you're truly happy at work, leaving for your child's benefit can lead to resentment and frustration on your part which translates to negative experiences for your child. Alternatively, this may be just the reason you needed to say goodbye to a job you dislike!
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