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Is Autism A Disability?

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The short answer is yes. Autism is a brain condition, not simply a personality trait. Autism or Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is related to a permanent neurodevelopmental condition. Further, it negatively affects an individual’s ability to communicate, have relationships, and learn.

The symptoms of autism are usually evident before the age of two. However, autism sometimes goes undiagnosed until adulthood. Fundamentally, there are three disorders of autism spectrum disorder:

  • Autism
  • Asperger’s Syndrome (AS)
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD-NOS)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 44 children have autism. However, not everyone that has autism can receive Social Security disability benefits.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Disability BenefitsAutism is a developmental disability that affects brain functioning. People who have autism may use different ways to learn, move, or focus. They can have issues in social interaction and learning, and they may have restricted interests.

Autism is one of the impairments in the Social Security Administration (SSA) Blue Book. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title I, employment discrimination against people with autism is against the law.

Autism may be genetic, but its causes are not fully understood. ASD can impact people’s lives in different ways.

Signs and symptoms of autism

People with autism have challenges in social communication and interaction skills, restricted or repetitive behavior, and other characteristics.

Skills  Symptoms
Social communication and interaction
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Not responding to name by 9 months
  • Not showing happiness or other emotions
  • No gesturing by 1 year
Restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests 
  • Repeating words (echolalia)
  • Difficulty handling change
  • Restricted interests or routines
Other characteristics
  • Delay in language and movement skills
  • Difficulty with learning
  • Epilepsy or seizure disorder
  • Intense mood changes or strong reactions to change
  • Anxiety, stress, or depression


Children may have other symptoms not listed here, especially if their autism is comorbid with other conditions.

Common causes of autism in children

Autism is likely genetic, though the environment may also play its role. Children born prematurely or with low birth weight may be more likely to have autism if they were somehow exposed to harmful substances like lead.  

Parents can use knowledge of developmental milestones and consider input from grandparents and other caregivers to recognize autism in their children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), if there are problems in child development at 9, 18, or 30 months, ASD might be a possibility. 

Problems with brain development may cause ASD. Parents should take care to provide input for any evaluations so healthcare providers can determine whether the child has autism or another learning disorder such as ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or others.

Can You Get Disability for Autism?

Yes, conditions like autism are potentially disabling according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Autism may qualify you or your child for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The SSA has two types of autism disability benefits: 

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The SSDI program is for those who have worked in the past but are now unable to engage in any work due to their disability. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides aid to all children and adults with disabilities who also have a low income. With SSI, you don’t need to have worked in the past to be eligible for disability for autism.

What is Asperger’s syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome refers to a medical condition on the autism spectrum. People with Asperger’s typically have higher functioning in comparison to those with autism. 

People who have Asperger’s syndrome may have difficulties with socializing and have restricted interests. Proper communication training along with other therapies can help these individuals cope and thrive.

Eligibility criteria for autism disability benefits

The SSA has its own specifications for medical conditions in the Blue Book. Children who are under 18 may be eligible for SSI for autism. Those 18 and older may apply for SSDI or SSI on their own.

Some adults may apply for SSDI benefits for their children. If granted, this aid is based on the parents’ employment history. To know more specifications about the disability benefits for children, parents can check out this booklet from the SSA.  

Individuals who do not meet the eligibility criteria can still receive medical vocational allowance benefits. In this category, the SSA will analyze the disability criteria in depth. If an individual experiences limitations in their daily functioning and working, they may qualify for SSI or SSDI.

What medical benefits are available for SSDI/SSI for autism?

Those with autism may also qualify for the Medicaid waiver in some states. The Medicaid waiver provides support to disabled people. However, Medicaid waivers are known by different names in different states. Some of the medical benefits that may be available in addition to SSDI or SSI aid are: 

  • Medicaid and Medicare
  • Children’s health insurance program (CHIP)
  • Healthcare services for children under the SSA 

You can find qualifying criteria for SSI for childhood autism in section 112.10 of the SSA Blue Book. The criteria that must be present are social interaction impairment, communicative deficits, and behavioral patterns that result in low functioning. 

Adult autism is in listing 12.10 of the SSA Blue Book. In order for an individual to qualify for disability, the SSA requires that severe limitation in daily activities is present for 12 months or more.

How to apply for disability for autism

Call to make an appointment: 1-800-772-1213, or TTY 1-800-325-0778 for the deaf and hard of hearing. You can also fill out a child’s disability application online. 

A representative of the SSA may be able to help you complete your application. In case you have any questions about how to fill out an SSI application, you can consult the child disability starter kit

You should have all your medical records and other necessary information ready before filling out the form. For SSI, the SSA will review the complete child disability report and determine whether the income and resources of a particular household are within the required limits.

What happens if your disability claim gets denied?

If the SSA denies your disability application, you will receive a letter mentioning all reasons for the denial. In these cases, you have the right to request reconsideration. 

You can also file an appeal and request a hearing in case your reconsideration application gets denied. If you are in this situation, a Fort Myers Disability Attorney can properly advise you on how to proceed. Don’t hesitate to organize a free consultation for your disability case if needed.