What People with Autism Should Know about Social Security

Autism Speaks display

Autism Speaks via flickr

In the U.S., one in every 68 children are born with autism, making it the fastest-growing developmental disability.  There are more than 3.8 million Americans living with autism, and it presents challenges in everyday life.

Oftentimes, autism poses financial difficulties and requires special medical care and educational needs. Because this disability is so prevalent, it’s important to realize that help may be available to you or your family through the Social Security Administration.

What exactly is autism?

Known medically as autism spectrum disorder, autism is classified by several factors. The term “spectrum” refers to a large number of symptoms, skills, and impairments people with autism can experience. These include social limitations or difficulties communicating, as well as repetitive behaviors.  The disorder’s severity can range from mild to extreme.

Scientists don’t know what causes autism, but research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors play a role.  Most people who develop autism don’t have a family history of the disorder, suggesting that random gene mutations affect a person’s risk.  (Mutation meaning any change to your genetic information–helpful, harmful, or otherwise). In the medical community, “environment” refers to anything outside of the body that can affect health. For autism, researchers study environmental factors such as exposures to toxins, complications during birth or pregnancy, as well as parental age and other demographic features.

Autism and Social Security Disability Insurance

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two types of disability benefit programs to help individuals with autism.  Depending on your work history, age, and financial status, you may be better qualified for one form over the other.

For adults with autism:

Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) may be able to help adults with autism. SSDI helps those who are unable to work for a certain amount of time due to a disability. Because your eligibility for this type of benefit is determined by your taxes and work history, SSDI is typically geared more towards adults.  To qualify, you need to show your work history: where you worked, and for how long.  This proves that you’ve worked long enough to pay Social Security taxes.  An “adult child” (a child over the age of 18 but who has had autism before age 22) can also receive SSDI benefits based on parental earnings.

Additionally, your medical history will need to help you qualify. For the SSA, autism needs to reach a certain level of severity before you can qualify for benefits. In order to demonstrate this level of severity, you need two things:

  1. Medical proof that your disability limits your ability to socially interact with others, imagine things outside your own experiences, and communicate with others, both verbally and nonverbally; and
  2. Proof that these limitations do at least two of the following:
    a. Restrict your daily activities
    b. Make it difficult to form social connections
    c. Make it difficult to concentrate or focus on tasks; or
    d. Make it difficult to cope with stress, which often results in episodes.

For children with autism:

Because children will not have a work history, their parents’ financial situation can help families qualify for benefits through Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If you are a parent of a child with autism, you will have your income and financial resources evaluated to see if you qualify.  This process is called parental deeming.  Stepparents’ income can also be considered.

To qualify for SSI, you will need to show three things about your child’s disability.  You will need to show that their autism limits their ability to:

  1. Connect and socially interact with others;
  2. Imagine things outside personal experience and communicate verbally or nonverbally; and
  3. Participate in activities and develop new interests.

What now?

Before applying for either benefit program, make sure you collect the necessary medical and financial information first.  This may include diagnosis reports, treatments, and hospitalizations.  Written statements from professionals your child interacts with may also provide details about your child’s condition.  Some examples include teachers, coaches, therapists, or doctors.

There are also many resources available to help those with autism and their families.  The National Institute of Mental Health has an informative page that discusses steps of diagnosis, treatments, and resources about living with autism. You can visit their page here.  Remember, there is support are available to help those with autism and their families lead healthy and happy lives.

We can help

Applying for disability benefits can often be a long and overwhelming process.  Your application might even be denied initially—but it often pays to remain persistent. We want you to know you are not alone. Our attorneys would love to meet with you for free to answer any questions you might have about the Social Security process. We can answer your questions and help you understand your case.