Should You Quit Your Job to Raise an Autistic Child?

When a child is diagnosed with autism—typically by the age of 2 or older—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 the child in your care suddenly becomes "therapy" time. Instead of relaxing in front of a video or hanging out in the backyard, you're working with a child to build communication skills, social skills, and play skills.

Mother hugging autistic son and guide dog
Victoria Yee / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

It's not easy to take on a whole new world of responsibilities while also providing your employer with your full time, focused attention. One study shows mothers of autistic children work up to seven hours less a week and are six percent less likely to be employed. Some parents wonder whether the best option is to simply stop working full time in order to focus on the needs of an autistic child.

Different Situations Require Different Solutions

No matter what your personal feelings or stress level, your options are limited by your resources and budget. Whatever choice you make, it's important to know that children with autism are unpredictable: very expensive therapies and lots of guardian time can have great results, but those results aren't guaranteed. By the same token, some autistic children flourish in public schools with publicly-funded programs and therapists.

Single Parents or Guardians

If you're a single parent or guardian, there's a good chance that you have no choice but to take the services offered to you through the local school district or agency, and do your best to provide more when you get home from work. If you have trusted friends and family to lean on, try reaching out to them for support. And, most of the time, a 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 the focused time when you get home will help fill in any gaps.

Couples

For coupled parents or guardians, the choices are trickier. In many cases, assuming you're willing to make sacrifices, it is possible for one parent or guardian to quit their job to care for an autistic child which means there's a decision to be made. In some cases the decision is easy: the highest earner stays at their job. But what if the higher earner is also the guardian who's most eager to manage services and work with the child in a home setting?

Chances are one of you may feel somewhat less pressure to quit your job in order to be available to a child with autism. In general, society often doesn't expect men or masculine people to make such a choice if one is in the household. Regardless of gender, the idea of forgoing work to care for a child may cross any guardian's mind. In some cases, particularly when one guardian earns more or has the job with better benefits, it is realistic and reasonable for them to keep their job while the other guardian leaves work to center the child.

Women and feminine people often face stronger societal pressure to become full-time autism guardians. After all, plenty of caregivers who identify similarly quit their jobs in order to be available to their neurotypical kids, and an autistic child needs so much more than a neurotypical youngster.

Tips for Deciding Whether Staying at Home or Not

The decision to become a stay-at-home autism guardian is very personal. Even if you have the money and resources to say "yes," you may have excellent reasons for saying "no." To make your own decision, consider your answers to these questions.

Can you really afford it? If you quit your job tomorrow, would your partner or another family member'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: the child won't be well served by a guardian who is constantly worried about making ends meet or resentful of the sacrifices "required" by a child's disability.

  • Does the child really need your full-time attention? Some children with autism are able to function quite well in public settings and need relatively little therapy outside of the school setting, while others have more challenging behaviors and needs. In some cases, a leave-of-absence can allow you to set up the right situation for the child in your care—and you can return to work feeling that they are in good hands.
  • 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, a child will have automatic access to applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, social skills therapy, and/or wraparound support without you, the guardian, 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. Before making a decision, take some time to determine whether your particular location is a good one for a child with autism. If it isn't, are you better off quitting your job, moving, or looking for private programs and therapies that are a better match for the child in your care?
  • How do you feel about being a child's full-time companion? It's nice to think that all guardians are ready, willing, and able to spend the day with an autistic child, but that is not true. Sure, most guardians are able to provide a few hours of at-home therapy, but 12 or 18 hours a day is a lot of time. If the thought of doing this seems daunting rather than energizing, you and the child in your care may be better served by taking advantage of professional services that are affordable to you. If cost is a barrier, consider forming a team of trusted friends and family to care for your loved one.
  • 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 a child's benefit can lead to resentment and frustration on your part which translates to children having negative experiences. Alternatively, this may be just the reason you needed to say goodbye to a job you dislike!
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2 Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Screening and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

  2. Cidav Z, Marcus SC, Mandell DS. Implications of childhood autism for parental employment and earnings. Pediatrics. 2012;129(4):617-623. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2700