Families of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) earn 28 percent less than families whose children have no health problems and 21 percent less than parents of those with other health conditions, according to a new study.

The findings revealed that the average $18,000 income gap between families with autistic children and those without is mostly because mothers with autistic children do not have jobs or take lower paying jobs and work fewer hours.

Researchers based their findings off of national household surveys done yearly between 2002 and 2008 that included 261 children with autism and more than 64,000 without health problems.

Researchers adjusted for factors like parents' age, race, education and health, and found that there were no differences between fathers, there were considerable differences in income between mothers.

The study found that women with autistic children were six percent less likely to work, worked less than seven hours and made 56 percent or $14,755 less than mothers of kids with no health issues and 35 percent less than mothers of children with other health limitations, according to Dr. Zuleyha Cidav of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

However, researchers found no significant differences in the fathers’ employment, work hours or earnings between dads with children affected with ASD or those with no health conditions.

Cidav said that these findings are not surprising because mothers are generally the primary caregiver and decision maker, therefore they have to “devote considerable personal resources to obtaining health care services for their children,” and sacrifice on things like personal career and income, according to a statement.

The study authors also pointed out that the mothers of children with ASD studied actually had more potential for higher earnings because they were significantly more educated and older than mothers of children who are healthy or have other health conditions.

Researchers noted that previous studies focused on assessing the financial impact of childhood autism by examining direct costs to the healthcare system, but have largely ignored that indirect financial impact on families can actually be quite significant.

Parents of ASD children either have to choose reduced opportunities to work for time on needed care, and have limited ability for the high cost of specialized child care, or increase the amount of time they spend working to pay for needed care and risk their home life to suffer.

Autism spectrum disorders, ranging from mild Asperger's syndrome to severe mental retardation and social disability, affect roughly one in 110 children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers said that more community-based resources are required to support families and their work obligations, and new policies that recognize the full impact of autism on families are needed to better assisted these families.

"When evaluating new interventions and policies, it is important to include costs and benefits to all parties affected by an intervention, including the family," the authors wrote.

"Accurately accounting for family effects in cost-effectiveness analyses can improve our understanding of the full costs and benefits of ASD-related interventions and guide policy makers in allocating resources for ASD treatment," they added. "Otherwise, undervaluing new financing policies are likely to create negative consequences for families."

The findings are published in the March 19 issue of Pediatrics.