MONEY health

Raising an Autistic Child: Coping With the Costs

A new study pegs the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism at $1.4 million. For parents, there are no easy solutions.

When Linda Mercier’s son Sam was around two years old, she knew something wasn’t right.

Sam was becoming withdrawn, not speaking or playing with other kids, and focused on specific tasks like lining up his toys. Eventually the mystery was solved: He was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD.

That was the beginning of a very long road, one that has involved significant time, effort — and money, plenty of it. Hundreds of thousands of dollars so far, Mercier estimates, on tutors, therapists and lost wages.

The good news: Same is now high-functioning, and in many respects a completely normal 13-year-old. The downside: The price tag to get to this point has been massive.

“Only a parent of a child with special needs can ever understand the struggles, and the financial commitment, of raising and recovering an autistic child,” says Mercier, a business owner from Winnipeg, Canada. “It’s an endless battle — and an expensive one.”

Indeed: A new study in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics has pegged the total lifetime cost of supporting an individual with an ASD at an astonishing $1.4 million in the United States. If there is also intellectual disability, the total rises even more, to $2.4 million.

RELATED: Paying for My Special-Needs Child

Such costs typically include an ongoing mix of special education programs, medical care and lost wages. After all, many parents of autistic children reduce their work hours, or even quit their jobs altogether, to help their child full-time.

The study is the most recent to tabulate just how crushing these figures really are.

“I can believe it,” says Mercier, when told of the million-dollar-plus price tag. “Easy.”

Even the study’s lead author admits to being taken aback by the final number.

“I was really surprised,” said Dr. David Mandell, director of the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the University of Pennsylvania. “The old estimates were from 8 or 9 years ago, and at first I was skeptical they needed updating.”

New studies are providing more current cost estimates. “What we found was shocking,” Mandell said. “This is a huge hit on families.”

Journalist Ron Suskind knows about that financial hit first-hand. His son Owen, now 23, was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum about 20 years ago, a journey Suskind has recounted in the book “Life, Animated.”

Owen has made remarkable strides, thanks to what Suskind calls “affinity therapy,” or tailoring treatment depending on the child’s particular way of understanding the world.

In Owen’s case, his preferred frame of reference is Disney movies. Using that template, Suskind and his wife got to work unlocking Owen’s full potential. But it did not come cheaply.

The organization Autism Speaks estimates that it takes around $60,000 a year to support someone with an ASD, Suskind says, adding that treatment for Owen cost about $90,000 a year.

“When we first got the diagnosis, the doctor asked me what I did for a living, and I said ‘newspaper reporter.’ He said, ‘I’m so sorry to hear that. You know, private equity is a nice way to go.'”

MOVING FOR SERVICES

The costs are so prohibitive that many affected families actually pick up and move to states that offer a superior array of therapeutic services. Suskind calls it a “Grapes of Wrath”-style migration, of families ultimately headed for locales like New York or Massachusetts. (To choose the right place for your family, check out Autism Speaks’ state-by-state resource guide.)

There is also a measure before Congress that aims to mitigate the financial burden for families: So-called ABLE accounts would be patterned after 529 college-savings plans, but specifically geared toward those with disabilities. The tax-advantaged savings could be put toward expenses like education, housing, therapy and rehab.

RELATED: Paying for My Special-Needs Child

One piece of advice from Mandell: Don’t automatically think that you have to drop out of the workforce in order to manage your child’s case full-time.

It’s the natural human instinct to want to do so, of course. No one knows your child and his or her needs like you do, and navigating multiple layers of city, state and federal services can indeed be a full-time job.

But when one parent drops out of the workforce, just as out-of-pocket expenses start to mount up, “it can become very financially difficult,” Mandell says.

He urges families to take a long-term view of caregiving. “In some cases it might be better for the mother to stay in the workforce, and then hire additional support to provide case-management services,” he says.

For Linda Mercier, the towering costs hit her family budget every single day. It meant cutting back wherever possible, taking second jobs and foregoing trips to visit family. All well worth it, of course, since Sam has been such an inspiring success story.

But there’s no question that raising a child with an ASD is a sobering financial reality.

“I would tell other parents of special-needs children that there is hope,” says Mercier. “It can get a lot better, and it does. But it takes a whole lot of money to get there.”

RELATED: Paying for My Special-Needs Child

TIME

Dad and Daughter Chase Down Alleged Burglars After Stumbling Upon Home Robbery

Some families go camping to bond, others get into car chases

Well here’s an untraditional father-daughter bonding activity for you: A Houston dad and his 22-year-old daughter chased down a group of burglars who had allegedly just robbed their house. And in true twenty-first century form, the terrifying car chase, which ended in a game of chicken, was all caught on a smartphone.

Kevin Smith, a plastic surgeon, was with his daughter Alana on his way home from a business trip Friday when they noticed a red pickup truck full of alleged thieves speeding out of their driveway. The family told CNN they turned their car around and started to chase the burglars not for fear of missing things, but because Alana had left her sister Kara at home on her way to the airport.

“I locked eyes on them, and their eyes were terrified. I knew that they had done something terrible,” she told CNN. “I didn’t know what happened to my sister, and I didn’t know if she was O.K. My instinct was this was my only chance to get these guys.”

And so they whipped out a smartphone to record evidence as they got into a car chase. Multiple times, the red pickup stopped and began backing into the sedan.

Alana’s voice can be heard on the tape asking, “Dad, what do I do?”

“Start it, Baby. Start it,” he responded.

The chase ended when the burglars’ truck whipped around and started heading towards the family’s car.

“It was just like in the movies,” Smith said.

Police showed up shortly after the final collision and caught two of the three men, placing them in custody.

The Smiths were also relieved to know that Kara was at the gym with her cellphone off at the time of the incident.

[CNN]

TIME Family

WATCH: Brad Pitt Might Be Your (Distant) Cousin

According to author A.J. Jacobs, you might be related to many of the beautiful faces you see on the big screen

Wouldn’t it be nice to see Brad Pitt at your next family reunion? According to author A.J. Jacobs, you might be related to many of the beautiful faces you see on the big screen. That is, very distantly related.

Jacobs says we all have famous and historical people in our family trees because we’re all connected through blood or marriage. In several years, according to Jacobs, we could have a family tree that connects all 7 billion on earth, which he calls an “unprecedented history of the human race.”

MONEY Budgeting

Yes, It’s Okay to Skip a Faraway Wedding

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West wedding
Jay Z and Beyonce turned down an invitation to Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's wedding in Florence. So what's stopping you from saying no to your cousin's big day in Boise? via Twitter

For families, the costs of attending weddings add up fast. Financial planner Kevin McKinley offers a few ways to keep expenses in check, including just saying "no."

The average American will spend $109 per wedding gift given this year, according to a recent survey by American Express.

But that sum is a mere fraction of what is spent to attend a wedding. The same survey says that guests will fork over, on average, an additional $592 per wedding per person on transportation, lodging, and the like. That’s significant enough if you’re a single person, but for families with young kids, the costs can really put pressure on the household budget. For a family of four, you’re looking at around $2,400 based on the AmEx survey, and that’s just average. When your cousin decides to get married in Martinique or your best friend from college picks the Ritz as the hotel of choice, your bill could easily be double that.

And for that pricey amount, you’ll likely end up spending more time shushing and soothing your kids than you will be partying it up with the wedding couple and their other guests.

Here are some better ways families can honor a bride and groom getting married at a distance, without breaking the bank or damaging your relationships.

•Decline but pump up your gift. Of course, the cheapest option is to say no to the invitation. To avoid any hurt feelings or questions, include a personal note that expresses your best wishes and your regret over not being able to make it–you might allude to the difficulty of choosing between bringing the whole family along and finding a suitable sitter for several days of round-the-clock care. Now to really take the sting out of the decline, consider sending a gift of cash that significantly exceeds the average gift amount (assuming you can afford it).

Don’t worry about offending the couple—55% of couples in the American Express survey said that they prefer cash to other more tangible gifts.

Even though you’re spending more than you usually would on a gift, you can think of it as savings over what you would have spent on the trip. That gift will go farther for the recipients too, since you’ll also be saving the couple (or their parents) the $220 per guest a survey from TheKnot.com found to be the average amount spent on food and entertainment at weddings in 2013.

What it’ll cost you: $300, assuming you give a gift triple the average amount.

•Decline, but make a date to celebrate separately. The other downside of spending thousands of dollars to attend a wedding—besides spending thousands of dollars—is that the bride or groom won’t be able to give you more than a few minutes of their attention. And if you don’t know anyone who will be attending besides the bride and groom, you’ve spent about $1,000 per minute with your friends.

You can get more quality time for less cash by getting together separately with the newlyweds after the wedding. So, if they live near you but are having a destination wedding, schedule a date to take them out for dinner when they’re back. If they live elsewhere, make a plan to visit them in their town, with your kids, at a different time. You’ll be able to pick your dates according to the most affordable time to travel, and perhaps save on hotel and dining costs by staying with the couple.

What it’ll cost you: $550, assuming you give a generous $200 gift, take them out for a $300 meal, and pay a babysitter around $50 to watch your kids; what it will cost to visit at another time depends upon where they live, whether you fly or drive, whether you stay with them and how much you spend on the gift

•Leave the kids at home. If you must attend the wedding, whether due to a sense of obligation or anticipation, you might consider leaving the children at home with a sitter or trusted relative. The net cost of the trip will still be much less than if you brought the kids, and you’ll be able to relax a little and enjoy yourself more.

What it’ll cost you: $1,184 based on the per person numbers from American Express and assuming you can convince a family member to babysit for free; more if you can’t.

•Fly solo. Can’t find someone to watch the kids but still want to go to the wedding? Another more affordable route would be to have the parent who’s less familiar with the couple stay at home while the other attends.

What it’ll cost you: $592 based on the per person numbers from American Express, plus the cost of a very nice souvenir for the parent who didn’t get to stay in a hotel room and wake up late!

•Make a vacation out of it. You’re probably planning some kind of family getaway anyway. And hopefully you’ve already set some money aside for this purpose. So look for ways to build your trip around the event so that your money does double duty (most importantly because you avoid paying for pricey airfares twice).

Could you tack on a week before or after the celebration? Is there someplace you’d all like to go that’s within driving distance? Turning the event into a vacation can make it more fun for all involved.

What it’ll cost you: More than $2,400 probably, but you’ll still save money by combining two trips.

______

Kevin McKinley is a financial planner and owner of McKinley Money LLC, a registered investment advisor in Eau Claire, Wisc. He’s also the author of Make Your Kid a Millionaire. His column appears weekly.

TIME Family

Jimmy Kimmel Gets Parenting Advice From a Child

Get this little girl a parenting book deal

Jimmy Kimmel and his wife are expecting a third child, but since it’s been a while since he had a baby around the house, the comedian decided to brush up on his parenting skills with the help of an adorable child.

Her biggest piece of advice? “I suggest you start changing the diaper.” This isn’t payback for all those Halloween candy pranks, is it?

But don’t worry Jimmy, at least “you’re not really like, going to eat the poop.” Phew.

TIME Family

Study: Less-Structured Time Correlates to Kids’ Success

Research found that young children who spend more time engaging in more open-ended, free-flowing activities display higher levels of executive functioning, and vice versa

Parents, drop your planners—a new psychological study released Tuesday found that children with less-structured time are likely to show more “self-directed executive functioning,” otherwise known as the “cognitive processes that regulate thought and action in support of goal-oriented behavior.”

Doctoral and undergraduate researchers at University of Colorado, Boulder, followed 70 children ranging from six to seven years old, measuring their activities. A pre-determined classification system categorized activities as physical or non-physical, structured and unstructured.

The resulting study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, was led by Yuko Munakata, a professor in the psychology and neuroscience department at the university. Munakata measured self-directed executive functioning using a verbal fluency test, “a standard measure on how well people can organize direct actions on their own,” she said.

The test asked children to name as elements in a particular category, like animals, as they could. “An organized person will group the animals together, listing farm animals, then move on to the next grouping,” Munakata said. “An unorganized person will say ‘cat, dog, mouse’,” providing a disconnected list of animals, inhibiting further recollection.

The results indicated that children who spend more time engaging in less-structured activities display higher levels of executive functioning. The converse also proved true: Children in more structured activities displayed lower executive functioning abilities.

“Executive function is extremely important for children,” Munakata told EurekAlert!. “It helps them in all kinds of ways throughout their daily lives, from flexibly switching between different activities rather than getting stuck on one thing, to stopping themselves from yelling when angry, to delaying gratification. Executive function during childhood also predicts important outcomes, like academic performance, health, wealth and criminality, years and even decades later.”

Munakata added a disclaimer that the study merely proves correlation, not causation. “Right now we don’t know if kids self-directed executive functioning are shaping their time, or if their activities are shaping self-directed executive functioning.”

Causation is the next piece of the puzzle, and will undoubtedly be the focus of a future longitudinal study. Until then, parents looking for the perfect balance for their kids have something else to chew on.

TIME royals

Prince George Gets a Really Fancy Birthday Present

The Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge Tour Australia And New Zealand - Day 3
Prince George of Cambridge attends a Plunket Play Group at Government House on April 9, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. Samir Hussein—WireImage/Getty Images

Happy birthday, Prince George

What do you get the 1-year-old who has everything? His own currency, of course.

The Royal Mint announced it is creating a limited-edition £5 silver coin in honor of Prince George’s first birthday on July 22. It’s the “nation’s gift” to the Royal Baby.

Queen Elizabeth II’s face will be on the coin, as with all currency in the U.K. But it will also be the first coin to include the cruciform version of the royal arms, representing England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, since 1960. There will only be 7,500 coins available, with a limit of 10 coins per household.

Each coin will be sold for £80, or about $136. The coin was approved by the child’s parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (that’s William and Kate to you commoners), along with his great grandmother, Queen Elizabeth.

TIME Family

Grieving Daughter Takes Life-Size Cardboard Cutout of Deceased Father Around the World

A moving tribute to a man who always wanted to travel the globe

A Virginia dad died from stomach cancer at 52 before fulfilling his lifelong dream of traveling the world. Now, CNN reports his daughter, New York-based artist Jinna Yang, 25, made it come true by going around Europe in April with a life-size cutout of her dad Jay Kwon Yang, taking photos of it in front of landmarks.

“Most of the time when you see a life-sized cutout, it’s of Justin Bieber or One Direction, and it’s usually in a nine-year-old’s room,” Yang told CNN. Plus, the six-foot-tall cardboard figure folded up, so in terms of transportation, she joked, “I didn’t have to pay for an extra seat for dad!”

Me and dad at the Leaning Tower of #Pisa, #Italy | #formyfather (Photo 5/11)

A photo posted by JINNA YANG (@greaseandglamour) on

Me and my dad in front of #skogafoss, #Iceland | #formyfather (Photo 6/11; cc @tineey)

A photo posted by JINNA YANG (@greaseandglamour) on

Me and my dad outside the Eiffel Tower in #Paris | #formyfather (Photo 1/11, cc: @tineey)

A photo posted by JINNA YANG (@greaseandglamour) on

 

MONEY Kids and Money

The Secret To Raising Financially Independent Kids

What parents can do from the get-go to help their children prosper later in life.

It’s the secret fear of every American parent: failure to launch.

What if, despite your best efforts, your adult kids just aren’t able to sustain themselves financially?

The idea used to give Andy Byron the cold sweats. With a whopping five kids, the 57-year-old financial planner from Pleasanton, Calif. wanted no part of “delayed adults” hanging out in his basement well into their thirties.

So he and his wife turned their household into a virtual factory for churning out financially independent kids. The eldest girl, 29, is an English language teacher. The 26-year-old twin boys work for Apple and PricewaterhouseCoopers, respectively. Their 22-year-old son scored a paid summer internship with medical device manufacturer Stryker Corp, with an eye toward a career in medical sales.

The 19-year-old daughter, a college sophomore in the fall, is combining her studies with a paid summer internship and a part-time accounting job during the school year.

So what’s their secret sauce?

“Start early, be consistent, and make sure they know what their responsibilities are,” Byron says.

As soon as they were 16 or 17, the parents told their kids that they had to get jobs, and would be on their own after graduation. As a result, the three oldest are out of the house and get no more monthly cash from the bank of Mom and Dad; the younger two will follow suit soon.

While the Byron clan appears to have figured it all out, it’s no easy task to nudge kids from the nest. Among people in their 40s and 50s who have adult kids, a stunning 73% report lending financial help over the previous year, according to Pew Research Center, a Washington-based think tank.

Are the successful launches of the 27% due to thoughtful, years-long projects to educate kids about handling finances? Or are they product of tough love, throwing adult kids into the deep end of the pool in order to force them to swim?

“They are more the result of financial education, and talking about money, which ranks right up there with sex as a taboo subject,” says Sally Koslow, author of the book Slouching Toward Adulthood.

For those with children who have yet to launch, there is plenty of time left on the clock. Here is how to prep kids for true financial independence, during college and the critical years that follow:

Do Your Part

If you don’t want your kids financially hanging on, do whatever you can to help them graduate from college debt-free. Seven out of 10 college grads last year had outstanding loans, at an average debt of $29,400, according to the advocacy group Project On Student Debt. To help them avoid indentured servitude, start saving as soon as they’re in swaddling clothes.

Andy Byron and his wife contributed at least $50 a month, and often much more, into 529 college-savings plans for each one of their five kids—”as soon as each child had a Social Security number,” he says.

Byron supplemented that aggressive strategy by “strongly suggesting” the kids go to public, in-state universities. The payoff: All the Byron grads have emerged from their college years free of student debt.

Related: How Much Do I Have to Save for College?

Draft a Wingman

The popular HBO series Girls was premised on a key event: Lena Dunham’s character getting financially cut off by her parents.

That can be excruciating for everyone involved, but necessary nonetheless. “Parents get so emotionally involved,” says Matt Curfman, a vice president with financial advisers Richmond Brothers in Jackson, Mich. “That’s why I tell them, ‘If you need me to jump in and help, even if I end up being the bad guy, I’m happy to do so.'”

It doesn’t have to be done in one fell swoop, Curfman notes. If your adult kid runs into financial trouble, write down a concrete plan to help with a certain amount of dollars for a certain number of months—”but that’s it.”

Become a Part-Time Professor

Kids get plenty of calculus and chemistry in high school and college, but personal finance? Not so much.

That’s where parents can make themselves a critical resource. For 24-year-old Annie-Rose Strasser, home instruction was what set her on the path to become the financially independent young adult she is now. Strasser has a full-time job as a journalist in Washington and lives in her own apartment. “I never learned personal finance when I was in school—401(k)s, saving, balancing a budget: I learned it all from my parents,” she says.

Paired with that informal home-study was the early expectation that Strasser would put herself to work as soon as she was able. A constant stream of it—at summer camps, at office jobs, at paid internships—helped set the table for her successful launch.

“My parents aren’t the kind of people who would say, ‘Go off and explore yourself,'” she laughs. “Instead, they put a lot of stock in the idea of finding a career, saving money—and being extremely financially responsible.”

MONEY Shopping

School’s (Almost) Out! Just In Time for Back-to-School Sales

BSIP SA / Alamy—Alamy

If you thought now was the time to relax and celebrate the end of the school year, J.C. Penney, Walmart, and Lands' End have a back-to-school sale for you.

Last summer, retailers raised eyebrows by rolling out back-to-school sales in early July, within a week or two of when kids escaped the clutches of teachers, principals, and algebra homework. “In seven and a half years, I’ve never once seen so much emphasis put on back-to-school before July 4,” National Retail Federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis told AdAge at the time.

Fast-forward to June 2014, and retailers are at it again, pushing back-to-school sales earlier than ever. Consumers are getting the message that the time to purchase gear for the upcoming school year is before the current school year has ended. Like, now.

J.C. Penney began promoting back-to-school sales last weekend, according to Consumerist. Walmart already has a back-to-school web page for student fashions, backpacks, and other school gear, as well as another page devoted to back-to-college apparel and tech. Target just introduced a college registry program, so that students can try to get other people to buy them stuff. Apple’s back-to-school promotional deals are expected to be announced any day now. And Lands’ End? It started zapping customers with e-mails a couple of weeks ago, pushing the idea that early June is a fine time to buy school uniforms that kids won’t wear until around Labor Day.

It’s totally understandable why retailers try to move back-to-school shopping earlier and earlier each year. Families generally have finite resources they can allocate to back-to-school fashion and paraphernalia, and once the pencils, protractors, glue sticks, notebooks, and a few new outfits are purchased, their back-to-school expenditures are done (in theory). Retailers want to beat the competition to the punch, before the family’s back-to-school budget is depleted.

“Retailers are going to do what they can to try to get consumers into the stores to shop, but the fact of the matter is they might not have much luck,” Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, explained to CNBC. “There aren’t any parents that I can find who have even thought of back-to-school shopping, because for most kids, they haven’t even gotten out of school yet.”

Still, even if shoppers don’t actually buy back-to-school stuff in June, the enticements may get them thinking about their needs for the upcoming school year. Panic sets in for a lot of overwhelmed parents, and they’re more apt to want to cross all of their children’s back-to-school items off their list as soon as possible. How can you relax on a summer vacation when you know there will be dorm rooms to decorate and Number 2 pencils that need to be purchased?

What’s more, early-season promotional efforts are limited mostly to the digital world. It’s much cheaper and easier for a retailer to send out an e-mail blast or put up a back-to-school web page than it is to rearrange shelves and create promotional sections inside thousands of stores. That’ll happen soon enough, of course, during the especially puzzling period when you’re likely to encounter Fourth of July, back to school, Christmas in July, and plain old summer sales in your local megamart, perhaps mixed in with the odd early Halloween aisle.

Of course, retailers risk some customer backlash by taking the expansion of shopping seasons too far. So-called “Christmas creep,” the phenomenon in which the Christmas shopping season kicks off in September and Christmas ads air within a few days of Labor Day weekend, has caused many an observer to groan in exasperation.

When the calendar says one thing and retailers are telling consumers something very different via sales and promotions, the result can be jarring, even off-putting. Yet retailers assume shoppers have short memories, and they hope that whatever bad feelings a too-early sale produces are outweighed by deals that are just too good to pass up.

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