Last night before heading to bed, my newsfeed started to fill up with angry comments about what was purported to be Jenny McCarthy’s recent statements in a Time article about her son not having autism and her new stance on vaccinations.
Curious, I clicked over to Time.com, signed up as a new subscriber (of course they put that article behind the pay wall) and read what the commotion was all about. Turns out, this “recent” article was from 2010. Way to start a media shitstorm, Radar Online.
Regardless of when it was published, the Time article got me thinking again about how a medical diagnosis can change a family’s life. Like many parents, I avidly follow stories related to autism. At first, it was to learn what to look out for in my own child. More recently, it has been to better understand how I can be of support to the many moms I know whose lives have been upended due to their children’s medical needs.
Notice I didn’t include dads, which we all know is sexist and just plain unfair. A medical diagnosis transforms an entire family. It impacts everyone forever. But what I’ve observed in almost every instance I know is that it's mom rather than dad managing more of the day-to-day needs of a child with autism. Is it true that women shoulder more of the responsibility when a child is diagnosed with autism?
Most of what I know about how autism impacts a family comes from my mom friends. On sites such as Facebook I will observe, at least once or twice a week, moms discussing IEP's, physical therapy or speech therapy, school meetings, support groups, diet-related needs, and so on. So I started to research how dads are involved. What I discovered was eye-opening.
Dads are engaged, but they may handle their children’s medical issues and the stress that accompanies them differently than women. According to Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel and Claire LaZebnik in an article on FamilyEducation.com, moms are more likely to talk with others outside the family about their child’s medical condition. Dads, on the other hand, tend to deal with the stress more privately. Dads are also more likely to feel it’s their job to secure their family’s financial future.
But as I dig a little deeper, I quickly learn that having a child with autism does indeed impact women differently than men. According to a study in Pediatrics, moms of autistic children earn 56% less than moms whose children have no health problems. They also “tend to leave the work force altogether, or take lower paying jobs and work fewer hours," reports Catherine Pearson of the Huffington Post. Unless the family has big bucks, this means that women are probably cleaning more, cooking more and spending way more of their time caring for the children, whether they want to or not.
Gender inequality still exists. My sense now is that inequality deepens when a child has a chronic health issue, whether it's autism or something else. Talk to parents whose children have severe allergies or who have been diagnosed with a condition like sensory processing disorder. By and large, the needs associated with those health issues are now falling disproportionately on the women of the family.
So now the question is: what, if anything, can we do about it?
(photo credit: Clare Bloomfield/freedigitalphotos.net)
Please note I am referring to heterosexual couples in this article. I am curious to know how having a special needs child impacts gay parents so feel free to share your knowledge and experience below.
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