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  • Christopher Le

Can I Receive Social Security Disability with Autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder that can cause impaired social behavior, difficulty communicating with others, and repetitive behavior norms. The severity of varies from one individual to the next. Children who have autism may have the following symptoms: withdrawing from other people, lack of eye contact, delays with speaking and forming words, repetitive actions such as rocking back and forth, and extreme focus on certain objects. Physicians diagnose autism by performing neurological, cognitive, or language testing.

Adult vs. Child Disability

Autism can affect both adults and children. If your child is under the age of 18 and has autism, they may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. SSI is a disability program that applies to low income families and individuals.

Autistic Children

There are two ways in which a child with autism can be found disabled. The first way is if the child's autism meets

the requirements of the childhood disability listing for autism spectrum disorders (listing 112.10). If a child satisfies this listing, they will be deemed to be disabled under social securitys guidelines. The second way is

if, the child's autism could "functionally equal" the autism disability listing because the autism causes severe or extreme limitations in functioning. For older children age 6 to age 12, SSA will review school records and academic testing. Typically, SSA considers a score that is two standard deviations below the normal as evidence of a severe limitation.

Autistic Adults

There are two ways in which an adult with autism can be found disabled. The adult could meet the adult autism listing (listing 12.10), which has the same requirements as the children's listing. If they do not meet this listing, an adult can be found to be disabled if they fall within the "medical-vocational allowance”. The SSA will consider medical evidence such as psychological testing, mental status examinations, and intelligence testing.

Meeting the Autism Listing

In order to meet the Autism Listing, an adult or child must meet the requirements for autistic spectrum disorders. Both listings require medical evidence evidencing:

  • deficits in social interaction

  • deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication, and

  • significantly restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.

In addition, Social Security will review evidence to see how the autism limits the applicant's ability to function at school or at work. The applicant must either have an extreme limitation in one of the following areas or a “marked” (severe) limitation in two of the following areas:

  • understanding, remembering, or using information (ability to learn, remember, and use information, follow instructions, solve problems, use reason to make decisions)

  • interacting with others (ability to cooperate with others, maintain friendships or work relationships, handle conflicts, initiate or sustain conversation, understand social cues)

  • focusing on activities (ability to perform tasks at a consistent pace, avoid distractions, complete tasks in timely manner), and

  • adapting or managing oneself (ability to regulate emotions, control behavior, protect oneself from harm, maintain personal hygiene).

Children Functionally Equaling the Listings

If your child's autism does not meet the disability listing for autism, SSA will consider all of the child's limitations in its entirety. This is quite similar to meeting the autism listing, but there are

other areas of functioning that are evaluated. In order to functionally equal this listing, your child must show

evidence of marked (severe) limitations in two of the following areas of functioning or an extreme limitation in one area of functioning:

  • how well a child moves about and manipulates objects

  • how well a child cares for himself or herself

  • whether a child has good health and physical well-being

  • how well a child acquires and uses information

  • how well a child attends to and completes tasks, and

  • how well a child interacts and relates with others.

To figure out how well your child functions within each "domain," SSA will consider medical opinions and medical evidence from various sources, including specialists, pediatricians, nurses, and occupational therapists. When determining whether a limitation is considered marked or extreme, SSA will consider how significant the restricted activities are to the child's basic functioning, how frequent the limitations occur, and whether the limitation occurs in all settings.

Adults: Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)

If your condition does not meet the disability listing for autistic disorders, SSA will evaluate your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is a list of your functional capacity as it relates to things such as sitting, standing, bending, stopping, kneeling, etc... SSA will also consider various skills, including your ability walk, work with others, and concentrate on tasks. To be found disabled under social securitys guidelines, you must be unable to perform any kind of jobs within your RFC.

If your autism is severe or extreme, you will likely have problems interacting with the public, supervisors and co-workers, and these severe limitations should show up in your RFC. Limitations in these areas will greatly reduce the number of jobs that you can perform. Due to autism, you may also have problems staying focused and concentrating on work tasks for an extended period of time. If you are unable to sustain work at a competitive pace, then SSA could consider you disabled because you are unable to perform any and all jobs in the national economy.

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