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Getting Social Security benefits for someone with autism

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can affect both adults and children. For some, the impact is mild. For others, autism can make it difficult to interact with people or to have a job. Adults who cannot earn a living due to their autism my qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Since a beneficiary can't qualify for SSD benefits unless they have a work history, children with autism can qualify only for SSI benefits. The same is true of adults who have never had a paying job. Many adults who are severely autistic have never been in the workforce.

Unlike SSD benefits, SSI is available to qualifying recipients with or without a work history who are determined to be medically and financially eligible.

To qualify for either benefit program, an adult with autism must present evidence of the following:

  • Pronounced difficulty with reciprocating or responding to other in social interactions
  • Limited interest or ability to participate in activities or creative or imaginative thought
  • Impaired verbal and/or non-verbal communication skills

Adults (those over 18) must also display at least two of the following signs of ASD:

  • Difficulty concentrating or completing tasks in a reasonable period
  • Limitations in daily living activities
  • Trouble interacting with others for a period of time
  • Long and repeated "decomposition" episodes where their ASD symptoms are more pronounced than usual

Medical documentation is crucial when applying for benefits. Statements from family members, friends, teachers, caregivers and doctors can also be very valuable in making a solid case.

Financial records will also be required for SSI to determine that the potential beneficiary meets the threshold for benefits. An adult applying for SSD benefits will need to show their wage history.

You can find out more about applying for disability benefits for someone with autism in the SSA's "Blue Book" under Section 12.10 (adults) and Section 112.10 (children). The information is available on the SSA website.

Mental disorders of any kind can be more challenging to prove for those seeking benefits than physical ones. If you're having difficulty getting approved for benefits for a loved one with autism, it's wise to consult an attorney experienced in dealing with the SSD and SSI programs.

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