How to Get SSI & Disability for a Child With Autism

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Autistic boy, isolated from peers
Autistic boy, isolated from peers (Image: Ciaran Griffin/Valueline/Getty Images)

Autism is a developmental disability classified by the Social Security Administration (SSA) under mental disorders-childhood. The SSA has two programs for disability benefits: the disability insurance program (SSDI) and the supplemental social security income (SSI) program. SSDI pays benefits to children under the age of 18 who are disabled and a dependent of a parent insured by social security. SSI provides money to people with disabilities who have limited income and resources.

Read the general information on the SSA website about SSDI and SSI. The broad definition of disability in children is “a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that causes marked and severe functional limitations, and that can be expected to cause death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

Read section 112.10 of the SSA Blue Book online. This section outlines SSA’s criteria for an autism disability claim, and will give you an idea if it’s worth pursuing. Consider whether you’ll be able to substantiate the deficits listed for your child’s age group, such as marked impairment in age-appropriate personal functioning.

Make an appointment with the physician who manages your child’s autism. Explain that you’ll need medical documentation of your child’s qualitative deficits in reciprocal social interaction, verbal communication, nonverbal communication, and imaginative activity. Ask whether the doctor can document that your child has a very restricted repertoire of activities and interests. You don’t need to obtain this document now (SSA will request it directly) but it will help you decide on a course of action.

Review SSA’s online Child Disability Starter Kit. The kit provides answers to common questions, as well as a worksheet you can use to gather information for your child’s application. Because SSI for children with autism is a means-based program, contact SSA to find out if your income and resources are within allowable limits.

Fill out a Child Disability Report for your child. You can do this online, by appointment at your local Social Security Office, or by calling 1-800-772-1213. Focus on your child’s disability and the help he needs with his activities of daily living.

Comply with all requests for information right away. A disability evaluation analyst will send you paperwork such as an Activities of Daily Living questionnaire, as well as other specific forms. For example, if your child has seizures, you’ll receive a Seizure Questionnaire.

Wait for the disability and SSI determination from SSA. If your child’s claim was denied, you can file an appeal, with or without the assistance of an attorney.

Tips & Warnings

  • Don't ignore the deadlines highlighted on communications from the SSA. Be prompt, and if you can't complete the paperwork on time, let the disability evaluation analyst know.

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