The puzzle piece has come to be known as a symbol for autism. It indicates that the disorder can be mysterious, as even experts would agree that there is still much to be learned about it. If someone in your life has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and you think this person may qualify for Social Security Disability, you can consult with an attorney who not only knows Social Security’s rules, but also understands this very unique disorder and how to show that someone’s autism qualifies them for disability. The disability evaluation process was designed years ago—when autism was much less prevalent—and therefore an autism case can present challenges as the proverbial “square peg in a round hole” – the autism piece doesn’t always fit nicely into the disability evaluation puzzle.
Social Security for Children with Autism
While autism begins in childhood, it affects both children and adults. Children’s cases are somewhat more straightforward, but can nonetheless present challenges. Financial eligibility can be considered first. The richest families won’t be able to get Social Security’s SSI benefits for a disabled child, but the income rules may not be as strict as you would expect, and you can feel free to contact us to discuss them. After verifying financial eligibility, Social Security will then consider the severity of the child’s autism. Under the disability evaluation rules, a child should be considered disabled if they have an extreme limitation in “interacting and relating with others.” Such a limitation would seem to be congruent with the very nature of an autism diagnosis, as it would only be made after clinical observations of things like a delay in the development of spoken language, a reluctance to engage in interactive conversation, lack of eye contact with in-person communication, and difficulty using and understanding facial expressions and gestures.
Autism can also involve repetitive speech, excessive adherence to routines, restricted interests, and sensory abnormalities, but someone doesn’t need to exhibit all of these behaviors for a valid autism diagnosis. In my experience with modern psychology practice, it generally seems that the communication and social interaction deficits are the primary clinical findings supporting the autism diagnosis and can create the most significant difficulty in the daily life of someone with autism. In this regard, there is somewhat of a disconnect between how autism is viewed by contemporary mental health practitioners and the judges who decide Social Security cases. This is not necessarily a dig at the judges. They are trained in law (not psychology), they have to understand all kinds of impairments outside of the mental health realm, and they do not generally attend conferences or read publications to keep themselves abreast of the latest developments in psychology. Nonetheless, skilled representation can be necessary to confront outdated assumptions judges may have about the disorder. A skilled attorney can coordinate presentation of medical opinions and other evidence to educate a judge about how the social deficits associated with someone’s autism render that person disabled.
Autistic Adults Can Qualify for Social Security
When someone reaches the age of 18, disability determination standards change, making cases more complicated as it becomes more difficult to fit the autism piece into the Social Security’s “puzzle.” At it’s core, disability is a program for people who can’t work. But what about a young adult with autism who faces significant work-related difficulty, but has the intelligence and physical capability to provide value in the workplace? There are a few important things to keep in mind.
First, DON’T DELAY! At age 18, an autistic young adult can become eligible for benefits which were previously unavailable due to parental income and/or assets. Even if the parents remain in a position to financially support this young adult, they should encourage them to apply for disability. First, the extra income isn’t going hurt anyone. Second, it can be important to obtain a finding that the young adult became disabled between the ages of 18 and 22. This can make the young adult eligible for what’s called a Childhood Disability Benefit at the time a parent retires, becomes disabled, or dies. This can mean additional income, as this benefit is based on the parent’s earnings record.
Next, don’t hesitate to encourage an autistic young person to pursue educational, volunteer, or employment opportunities. The best reason to do this is that regular interaction with others can benefit autistic young adults and help them work on their social skills. I have had numerous cases for autistic clients who are enrolled in college. Certainly, this can make a judge skeptical – they think, “how can this person be disabled if they are capable of taking college-level courses?” A skilled attorney will anticipate the judge’s thought process and come into a hearing prepared to answer this question. Now more than ever, colleges are providing accommodations to help those with disabilities take advantage of educational opportunities. Clearly, online education is growing, meaning someone with autism doesn’t always have to go into a crowded lecture hall to take a college course. And education can make turn someone who can’t work into a productive contributor! Vocational experts will testify that unskilled jobs often require a fast pace or interaction with the public that someone with autism may not be capable of. But development of skills can enable this person to do work involving a more flexible pace and minimal social interaction.
Can You Work If You Get Social Security for Autism?
It’s also important to know that part-time employment does not necessarily disqualify someone from disability. Social Security evaluates someone’s ability to perform competitive employment. This term is rooted in the economic concept that workers are replaceable, and someone who cannot meet competitive productivity standards will be inevitably be replaced. This means the person cannot sustain employment and should therefore be considered disabled. If an individual with a disability participates in a supported employment program with a job coach, should not be considered evidence that someone can engage in competitive employment. If someone is working part time and making even up to around $1,000 a month or so, they are not disqualified from disability, either.
Our Disablity Attorneys Can Help With Your Application
If you have a loved one with an autism spectrum disorder, you may be reluctant to seek out a determination that they are “disabled,” as they can certainly have a lot to offer the world. But this determination is only made so they can get the extra help they need, and does not mean they can’t do their best to perform some work, volunteer, or take advantage of educational opportunities. Encourage a young adult with autism to pursue disability as soon as possible. Delay only makes it more difficult to prove a case and reduces the lifetime value of the disability benefit.