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Understanding Disability Benefits and Autism
Part 2 of 2: Autism in Young Adults

Autistic young adults often face a difficult time as they transition to adulthood. Even if an individual functions well enough to consider entering the working world, they learn that employers are in business to make money and generally cannot provide autistic young adults with the support and accommodations they may have had in an educational setting. The social functioning problems that are characteristic of autism can greatly limit or preclude employment opportunities. Here are some points about Social Security benefits that autistic young adults and their those within their support systems should consider:

1. When Someone Reaches the Age of 18, Medical Disability Determination Standards Change

Part 1 of this series explained the disability determination for a child with autism. At age 18, adult disability standards apply. The listing for adults with autism is different than its childhood counterpart. Social Security decision-makers will also consider whether an adult is capable of regular and continuing employment.

2. At Age 18, an Autistic Young Adult May Become Eligible for Benefits that Were Previously Unavailable

The SSI benefits described in Part I are available to disabled children whose parents have relatively little income. At age 18, however, the child’s income will be also be considered. This means that a child whose parents are relatively high earners may be financially eligible for SSI at age 18. Also, Childhood Disability Benefits can be available to individuals who are deemed disabled between the ages of 18 and 22. These can amount to more than an SSI benefit because they are based on the earnings of a parent who is retired, disabled, or deceased. Keller & Keller’s disability team can talk with you about your potential eligibility for these benefits.

3. Regular Interaction with Others Can Often Benefit Autistic Young Adults

Research indicates that children diagnosed with autism can show a reduction in autistic behaviors as they grow older. This process may be aided by positive social contact in a supportive environment. This weighs against discouraging young adults with autism from making attempts at working, volunteering, or continuing education. Disability benefits are intended for those who cannot work on a regular and continuing basis. Part-time work with earnings under a certain threshold will not disqualify a young adult from obtaining disability benefits. At Keller & Keller, we understand the nuances of these rules and can advise you on them.

4. Autistic Young Adults May Have Opportunities for Accommodated Work

Vocational rehabilitation programs are in place to help those with challenges contribute in the workforce. Programs can provide incentives for employers to hire individuals with disabilities when doing so would not be otherwise economically viable. Autistic young adults should consider participation in these programs. They can be more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, but staying busy and interacting in an employment setting can help fend off these disorders. It is important to keep in mind that relatively low earnings from accommodated employment will not necessarily make someone ineligible for disability benefits.

5. At Keller & Keller, We Can Help Navigate This Difficult Transition

Autistic young adults who cannot support themselves financially may have concerns about how pursuing educational or accommodated employment opportunities would impact their chances of getting the benefits they need. When combined with the social challenges associated with autism, these concerns can make pursuit of these opportunities seem overwhelming. At Keller & Keller, we can answer your questions and work with you on developing a plan for obtaining the financial assistance necessary for survival while pursuing opportunities by which an autistic young adult can help himself and the community.

Special thanks to Keller & Keller paralegal Cassie Smith for research assistance.

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