Hidden Costs of Raising a Child with Special Needs

April 17, 2018 Susan Traugh

The costs of raising a child with special needs or mental illness go deeper than medication and doctor bills. Hidden costs cause great financial hardship to families. Learn more about the costs of raising children with special needs / mental illness at HealthyPlace.

The costs of raising a child with special needs or childhood mental illness are a financial burden. In addition to the most obvious financial costs of raising a child with special needs, there are also the hidden costs of parenting our children. These financial costs can weigh upon the entire family and push parents of special needs children to the brink.

Research shows that 40% of families with children with special health care needs (CSHCN) suffer financial burden while addressing those needs. That financial burden weighs heavily upon the entire family.

There are the obvious costs of medical treatment and insurance premiums. But, there are also a number of hidden costs that add to the financial burden of families with children with special health care needs (Guide to Treatment for Children with Mental Health Needs).

List of Costs of Raising a Child with Special Needs

Actual Medical Costs--While most of these are paid by our insurance, there are also the ineligible costs, including things like missed appointments when depression debilitates or anxiety causes refusal to leave the house.

Deductibles and Co-Pays-- Even with insurance, these run into thousands of dollars every year between medications and appointments. For example, this week we had $85 in co-pays for medications, and eight doctor appointments for different family members with $15 for co-pays for each visit.

Alternative Medicine--When traditional medicine could not help my son’s severe anxiety, we searched for anything to relieve his 24-hour-a-day panic attacks. We tried alternative medicine and, after a year of weekly treatments, found help. But, at $80/week for 50 weeks, the $4,000 price tag took a chunk out of our family finances.

Ancillary Costs--We traveled over 400 miles this week for treatment visits. We’ll do that for the next six months or so as we seek help for my daughter. The gas and wear and tear on the car add up. Additionally, my older daughter must fast before her treatment, and we cannot bring food into the hospital, so we stop for fast food on the way home each day further adding to the expense of the trip.

Income Costs--Like many parents of CSHCNs, I need to stay home to take care of my daughters, coordinate with their myriad of doctors and handle their crises. While I write from home, it doesn’t come close to the kind of income I could earn outside the home.

Career Costs--My husband cannot change careers or accept some of the opportunities offered to him as we need to assure the girls don't lose medical insurance.

Crisis Expense--Like so many parents of mentally ill kids, we pay for every crisis. When she was most ill, my daughter crashed our car, stole credit cards, kicked in walls and acted out in other ways with big financial consequences. Her destruction occurred when she was ill—not misbehaving—so we paid for the damage the same as we would if she'd bled on the carpet or threw up on the chair.

Other Hidden Costs--When my daughter was young and very ill, we had to pull her out of school for inappropriate behavior. That year, in order to help her learn appropriate social skills, we took her to movies, museums, zoos, and parks so she could interact with other kids and learn to control the symptoms of her disorder. What, to others, might seems like entertainment expense was really rehabilitation (Reinforcing Positive Behavior at Home).

Mental Health Costs of Raising a Child with Special Needs Can Pay Off

The costs of raising children with special needs create a financial burden, but rising to the challenge can pay off. My son has completely overcome his anxiety disorder and is working in a supervisory position. One of my girls has finished a certificate program and is hoping to work soon. There is real hope that my other girl will also find her place in the world. Our financial and emotional investment in our children is paying off and they are living closer to their potentials because of it. But, like other caregivers, this burden has come at a cost in our bank account, our retirement, and our financial security.


Kahlthau K, Hill KS, Yucel R, Perrin JM. Financial burden for families of children with special health care needs. Maternal Child Health Journal, 2005 June: 9(2):207-18.

APA Reference
Traugh, S. (2018, April 17). Hidden Costs of Raising a Child with Special Needs, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Susan Traugh

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