Dr. Whitney P. Witt recently published a paper, “The Impact of Childhood Activity Limitations on Parental Health, Mental Health, and Workdays Lost in the United States,” concerning her research determining whether children with activity limitations (i.e., children whose activities are limited in comparison to their age-appropriate peers) affects the physical and mental health of parents. Not surprising, Dr. Witt found, “Parents of children with any activity limitation were significantly more likely to experience subsequent poor health and mental health.” If the activity limitations were on-going and/or multiple children lived with activity limitations in the same family, then the odds of poor mental health were significantly increased.
The results are not surprising. She concludes: “These findings indicate that child health can importantly influence the health and work behavior of the family and that health care providers should consider a family-centered approach to care.”
I don’t disagree. Family-centered health care is important. But, and this is a BIG but, there is a time-tested method of assisting these families. Witt touches on that as well: “Employers should consider offering respite care or additional support services for families whose children have activity limitations. This could enable the parents to miss less work and may improve workplace productivity.”
Neither my husband nor I have ever worked for an employer that offered such a benefit, though our work history has suffered due to the special needs of our children. However, Wisconsin has an excellent (read here: expensive!) autism program that provides respite care to our family. It is a sanity-saver! Respite care is vital when you’re raising children with special needs. Unfortunately, it seems funds for these programs are too few, spread too thin, and too limited to benefit as many people as need it. For example, though these services are widely available to Wisconsin families with children with autism, families with children experiencing other special needs and activity limitations do not share in these same benefits.
There is a cost to raising children with special needs. The cost is real, whether it’s spent preventatively or on treatment. Our families are worth the cost. Our productivity is worth the cost. Our health is worth the cost.
“There are substantial health, mental health, and work implications for parents caring for children with activity limitations. Addressing the needs of these parents could help improve the health and well-being of the whole family,” Dr. Witt said. And she’s right. It would also make for better employees, better citizens, and a better nation.