Understanding the Evolution of Employment and Financial Situations of Mothers and Fathers of Children with Autism

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
C. des Rivières-Pigeon1 and V. Malboeuf2, (1)Sociology, University of Quebec at Montreal, Montreal, QC, Canada, (2)Sociology, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal, QC, Canada

When a child is diagnosed with autism, the lives of his or her parents change significantly. Up until now, scientific research has mainly focused on the psychological difficulties of these parents, particularly the stress and distress they experience (Yorke et al., 2018). Available research has also shown that parents of children with autism often lack social support and face major work-family balance challenges (Karst & Van Hecke, 2012). That being said, very little research has been done in a sociological perspective that address the specific socio-economic challenges and gender issues these parents face.


The present study aims to better understand the dynamics that lead to changes in the socio-economic situation of mothers and fathers of children with autism. Carried out in a feminist perspective (Hesse-Biber, 2012), it focuses on two central aspects of these dynamics: employment and financial situations.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with twenty Quebec families. The sample was composed of families with varying socio-economic backgrounds and a range of different household situations. Each family included at least one child with autism who was between 8 and 17 years old. Each parent was asked about the particular socio-economic challenges they faced from the moment their child was diagnosed to his or her adolescence. A thematic content analysis (Paillé & Mucchielli, 2003) was used to organize the participants' discourses into different themes, which allowed for a thorough understanding of each family’s situation concerning employment and financial situation. The data was then analyzed more broadly, leading to an in-depth understanding of the various socio-economic and gender issues parents of children with autism face.


The results obtained in this study highlight important social and gender inequalities and reveal that the employment and financial situations of mothers and fathers of children with autism evolve in dramatically different ways. Specifically, the employment situations of mothers follow four distinct trajectories over time, three of which lead to financial insecurity. The results from this study also show that high-income mothers are able to maintain employment because they can afford specialized intervention, childcare and support. Indeed, many mothers in this study found themselves in a precarious financial situation, particularly in the event of a divorce or separation. The results also revealed that fathers often increase their working hours, mostly to compensate for their spouse’s loss of income. Nonetheless, most families experienced a significant loss of financial resources over time. Although some mothers were able to return to work once their child became a teenager, the financial situation of most families remained grim.


The health of parents of children with autism is a major public health issue. These parents, who are expected to take care of their child over a long period of time, are likely to experience psychological distress and financial instability. In order to adequately support these families, it is crucial to develop programs and legislative frameworks that will protect them from financial precariousness, as it is known to have detrimental effects on health and wellbeing.