More than half a million U.S. children have autism, with costly health care needs that often put an unprecedented financial strain on their families, national data show.

Compared with parents whose youngsters have chronic health care needs but not autism, those with autistic children are three times more likely to have to quit their jobs or reduce work hours to care for their kids. They pay more for their kids' health needs, spend more time providing or arranging for that care, and are more likely to have money difficulties, the study found.

"This is the first national survey that looked at the...

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