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New WLU study finds Autism Spectrum Disorder puts 'severe pressure' on families

The study, Autism services in Ontario: Impacts on Family and Child well-being, is looking at how ASD affects the lives of families in Waterloo Region
Wilfrid Laurier University
Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo campus). Image from WLU.

A new Laurier study finds families with children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), are facing severe pressure when it comes to trying to provide for their kids.

And this pressure is resulting in a decrease in mental health, leading to anxiety and depression in parents.

After interviewing around 700 caregivers for children with ASD, research found families in Waterloo Region are losing out on job opportunities, sleep, leisure and social time due to caring or advocating for their child's ASD needs.

"Many families who have children with autism are in a state of crisis due to the lack of adequate supports for their children across the domains of therapy, education and respite." said Janet McLaughlin, researcher and associate professor of health sciences at Laurier University. 

"As a society, we need to do better to ensure that these families are properly supported, both for the well-being of the children and also for the well-being of the whole family unit."

The study also found that when it comes to accessing treatment, there is an economic gap that affects ASD children's development.

ASD children in higher income families tended to receive better care earlier with private therapy, resulting in these children having more independence than those in lower income families waiting on public services.

However, regardless of income, McLaughlin says that all families are feeling financial strained by a lack of available services for children with ASD.

"Many parents quit or downgrade their jobs to care for their children." said McLaughlin, "Other family members often work extra hours or take on weekend or evening jobs to pay for the therapies their children need."

The study provided options on how to deal with the issue, which included earlier diagnosis, after school care and investing in appropriate therapies to take place in schools.

McLaughlin says that these solutions would help save money in the long run.

"We have nurses and teachers who are quitting their jobs to stay home with their kids," says McLaughlin, "so all that training that went into those jobs is lost, productivity is lost and the tax base is lower."

"If parents were able to maintain full employment in the jobs for which they were trained, it would benefit society economically as well as in the broader sense of human capacity."


Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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