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Understanding Disability Benefits and Autism
Part 1 of 2: Autism in Children

Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program can provide financial assistance for families with a disabled child. The criteria Social Security will apply when making a disability determination can be complicated; however, parents considering seeking SSI benefits for a child can ask themselves this simple question: “Has my ability to work full-time been compromised because of the care I need to provide my child?” While this is not necessarily the question Social Security will ask in evaluating the claim, it can be a good rule of thumb if you are considering applying.

Autistic Children May Qualify for Social Security Benefits

A child with autism may be eligible for SSI benefits. When reviewing any childhood disability case, Social Security will evaluate the child’s functioning in six “domains.” One of these domains is “Interacting and Relating with Others.” This one is particularly important to an autism case, as social functioning problems are central to autism. In considering an autism diagnosis, doctors will consider factors like communication deficits. For example, a child may exhibit delay in the development of spoken language. A child may not readily engage in interactive conversation. If a child generally does not make friends with his or her peers, this can be indicative of autism, as well.

Your Doctor’s Opinion Will Be Considered in Social Security’s Determination

In a clinical setting, a mental health professional will consider behaviors like lack of eye contact or a failure to adequately use gestures or facial expressions for communication. Likewise, a child with autism may have trouble understanding gestures or facial expressions. These factors will also be taken into account when Social Security performs a disability determination.

Other behaviors a doctor will assess in evaluating autism include preoccupation with patterns and/or compulsive adherence to rituals. A child exhibiting these behaviors could have serious limitations in any of the other domains, such as “Attending and Completing Tasks” or “Caring for Yourself.”

In an autism case, Social Security will also consider its “listing” for autism. If a child’s autism satisfies the criteria for this listing, he or she will be considered disabled. Keller & Keller’s attorneys are familiar with this listing and can work on your behalf to make sure a Social Security judge has all the evidence that is relevant to it.

We’re Here to Help You Deal With this Unique and Often Misunderstood Disorder

There’s a reason the puzzle piece is a symbol for autism; even the foremost experts would agree that they have much to learn as they work towards a greater understanding of the disorder. When you’re dealing with a disorder that is not well-understood and a complicated set of legal rules, you need the right attorney on your side – someone who not only has legal training, but also has an understanding of autism gained from experience handling cases like yours. At Keller & Keller, we have this experience, and can apply it in your case.

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