Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mom's Income -- The Real Cost of Childhood ADHD

As I sit here in the middle of the afternoon, chaos reigns around me. On the table beside me sits a stack of bills that I'm trying to juggle payment on -- I have to decide which ones need to be paid now and which ones can wait until next payday. In the living room Stitch is playing, happily throwing blocks around and laughing madly as they bounce off the furniture. Down the hall Bear, who should actually be at school right now, is playing his Leapster, the fact that it's an "educational" game allowing me to fool myself into believing it can be classed as "work."

I stare at the bills, willing them to just disappear. Disappearing in a puff of smoke would be preferable, since then there'd be no trace left of them. Money gets a little tight in the ODD household because, even though TheODDDad has a pretty decent job, and for that I'm grateful, I work from home part-time and currently bring in about half of what I would be earning if I worked full-time. We manage to pay the mortgage and the bills, but there's not a whole lot extra (if any) left at the end of the month. We'd cut back on our spending, except there's really nothing left to cut. We have basic cable and neither of us owns a cell phone. We have friends over instead of going out. When we do go out, we've been known to ask my niece to babysit for free because we can't afford to go out and pay her. (For the record, my almost-16-year-old niece is one of the most important members of our support network. She has been on the receiving end of Bear's behaviour more than a few times and knows how to deal with him and laugh it off like a pro. Because she's seen it firsthand, she's one of the few people who truly "gets it," so she's always happy to help if it means we get out of the house.)

The fact of the matter is that we really need to be a two-income family. We need to be, but we aren't. We need to be, but we can't be. I realize there are a lot of families in the same boat given the state of the economy, but the economy isn't our problem.

So why then, you ask, aren't I out bringing in more money? Well, if you must know (you're so nosey!), we have a child with special needs, and just about any mom with a special needs child will tell you how difficult it is to hold a full-time job AND do everything you need to do for your child. Something, somewhere, has to give, and it's very often the ability to hold a full-time job.

Think I'm exaggerating? A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics revealed that overall earnings of mothers with a child with autism are 56% lower than mothers whose children don't have any health limitations. This is likely due to the fact that mothers of children with autism often have to leave the workforce altogether or take lower-paying jobs in order to properly care for their children. Interestingly enough, the study showed that only the mother's income was affected, not the father's.

Granted, the study looked at mothers of autistic children, not children with ADHD. But while autism and ADHD are two completely unrelated conditions, they can be very similar in their outward manifestations. In fact, a proper diagnosis of ADHD often involves ruling out autism. Both can cause behavioural problems, problems in school, difficulties in social interactions...etc, etc...and necessitate all kinds of interventions and specialists. Based on my own experiences and those of other mothers I know whose children have ADHD (especially when there's an accompanying diagnosis of ODD, anxiety, or any of the other conditions that often go hand-in-hand with it), I would say we're in the same boat.

Bear's challenges mean that he rarely gets to school before 10:00 a.m., if he gets there at all. His anxiety means that summer programs and daycares are out of the question. Phone calls from the school come weekly, although at one point they were almost daily. When he does make it to school, I don't know from one minute to the next when I'll be called to come get him. Suspensions are fairly rare now, but they were a rather frequent occurrence at one point. Until last week, we met weekly with a counsellor to work on his anxiety issues. Although that's over for now, there will be more behavioural interventions as he gets older that will require meetings and appointments. Add in appointments with doctors/specialists and meetings at the school and you suddenly find that you are almost unemployable at a traditional 9-to-5 job. You are an employer's worst nightmare -- someone who may or may not show up for work on time (or at all), who may leave in the middle of the day on a moment's notice, who receives personal phone calls at work on a regular basis, and whose mind isn't on her job...ever.

I'm fortunate in that I have skills that allow me to work from home and to bring in enough money to makes ends meet, but let's just say that Freedom 55 isn't exactly in our future.

13 comments:

  1. Laura,

    I know exactly what you're talking about. I'm curious what the dollar value of what it is we do would be. They do the "what would a mom earn" if she was a salaried employee as a cook, chauffeur, bookkeeper, administrative assistant, nurse, and CEO... What if she also had to be psychiatrist, negotiator, pharmacist, doctor, warden, teacher, aide and life coach?

    Good luck with your bills sweetheart. Hopefully we'll both find ways to bring extra income into our cash strapped homes while still being available to care for our kids. ;)

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    1. Good point, Johane, but you forgot "zoo keeper." lol

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  2. Lol... True... How could I have forgotten that I have a monkey, a tiger, a turtle dove, and an eagle...? ;)

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    1. I meant the animals we call children, but real animals work too. lol

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    2. Oh good golly No! I don't have such wild animals in my house... I was just describing some of the animal characteristics I find in my girls... I like my pets on the small side - house cats, fish, budgies... ;) lol

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  3. Oh my gosh. My brother and sister in law struggle with this a lot. They are having such a hard time with the school that my nephew attends. He is on the autism spectrum and they are testing him for aspergers.
    Anyways, instead of helping him, they veiw him as an inconvenience which means they call his parents to pick him up all the time. So my sister in law can only work part time. They have 4 kids.

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    1. My heart goes out to them, especially if the school is being difficult. We're fortunate that our school is very supportive, but there are still days where they simply can't handle Bear. The fact is that families with kids like ours aren't able to bring in the money they need to make ends meet, let alone pay for any additional activities or therapies their kids might benefit from. The stresses on a marriage from having a special needs child are bad enough without having to add money worries.

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  4. I know that this isn't the entire meaning behind your post- but do you use coupons to slash that grocery bill even more? So many people think that it takes too much time or they will have to buy only "junk" and it's so not true.

    Save on the items you can to open up more money elsewhere. As a stay at home mom of 3 myself- I know it's hard to juggle money when there aren't even two nickels to rub together some paychecks. Slashing my grocery bill (and personal care products) has really helped loosen that noose I felt each time a bill arrived!

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    1. Hi MSM. Love the name, by the way. I do use coupons when I can, but my son is on a pretty restricted diet that is very expensive, and there aren't any coupons for these products. Not in Canada, at any rate. I have to ask -- are you in the US? Coupons work completely different down there and consumers are able to save a lot more money. In Canada a coupon for 50 cents off gets you 50 cents off. That's in. There's no doubling your coupons or anything like that. That said, I could probably use coupons more than I actually do. Thanks for the reminder.

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  5. Hugs and nods of understanding from this end. I've now added in a mother with dementia who is in between the criteria for retirement home and long term care, so my day is even tighter now because I need to take care of her too.
    I SHOULD be building my business more so that there is less pressure on my husband. I just don't know how to shoehorn anything else into my life right now.
    Hugs and cyber wine.

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    1. Cyber cheers! I'll be thinking of you later when I have a little drinkie-poo. I SHOULD be building my business as well, but there's just no time left in the day. We have to look after ourselves if we want to be able to look after the people who depend on us.

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  6. I totally understand. I am a divorced full time working single mom (due to drug issues, dad only can have supervised visitation 1-2 hrs/wk) and has not been in my son's life too much over the last 2 1/2 years. I am always late to work every day because mornings are nightmares. C never wants to get ready in the morning or something sets him off and then it is temper tantrum city that may include a basket hold because he is hurting me. Thank God I have a boss who understands and I have been there a long time, so most of my vacation days are used to fill in the gaps.

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    1. Doing it on your own must be incredibly difficult, Terri. Mornings are normally on my own unless my husband is working from home, but at least I have some help in the evenings (our other tough time). I hope you don't mind my asking, but have you had your son assessed for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome)? My understanding is that children who have witnessed some sort of trauma at home (fighting, etc), which I'm guessing your guy may have given your husband's issues, can suffer from this. It may be another factor affecting your son's behaviour and requires a different type of therapy. Please keep sharing with us!

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