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April was Autism Awareness Month. With the increase in awareness of autism and autism spectrum disorders, many are surprised to know that doctors first put a name to the condition nearly 75 years ago. At this time, psychologist Leo Kanner first observed the condition in 11 children noting two central characteristics – the desire towards maintenance of sameness or a set routine, and a marked difference in how the children related to people or situations (social limitations). Similarly, the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates autism in both adults and children by determining whether the adult or child has deficits in reciprocal social interaction, in verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and in imaginative activity.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Today, most people know that autism affects communication and social interaction skills. Both adults and children, including disabled adult children, can qualify for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based on a diagnosis of autism. If the child is under 18, SSI may be payable if the family meets certain financial eligibility criteria. Once the person reaches 18, Social Security Disability can be paid as a Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefit if one or more of the parents is deceased, retired or disabled, and worked at a job that withheld Social Security taxes. In that case, a finding must be made that the child became disabled prior to age 22. An adult who has worked and acquired sufficient credits on their own wage record may qualify for DIB or if he/she does not have enough work credits, could qualify for SSI if they meet the financial requirements.
Social Security evaluates autism under the Mental Disorders section of their Adult and Childhood Listing of Impairments. The applicant must meet or equal the criteria outlined in the listing, or alternatively, demonstrate an inability to sustain any competitive employment (adult standard), have symptoms that result in marked limitations in two domains of functioning or an extreme limitation in one domain (childhood standard). To meet the criteria outlined in the Adult Listing of Impairments, the government must also find that the symptoms result in a marked restriction in at least two of the following: activities of daily living, social functioning, concentration, persistence, or pace.
For a disability case involving autism, the most important evidence in an adult or child claim is that of a neuropsychological evaluation. This assessment will be documented proof of the severity of symptoms and show how those symptoms impact an individual’s ability to relate to and function within the world around them.
Children living with autism often will also have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). An IEP is a written statement to fit the educational program designed to meet the needs of a student whom the school assessed as requiring extra services to meet their educational goals. It is developed by a team of teachers, therapists, school administrators and other support service staff who provide a detailed description of what the school will do to accommodate the student’s needs. These plans will change as the student’s needs evolve.
Apart from knowing what evidence is important, what the lawyers at Nash Disability Law know from experience in front of all of the judges at the six Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana hearing offices is that the facts matter. Family members of children and adults living with autism often possess as much, if not more, invaluable information than the claimants themselves. Therefore, preparing the facts of the case will involve thorough discussions or written contact with family, friends, teachers, and medical professionals, who are aware of the finest details of how the given symptoms interfere with the child’s ability to function or the adult’s ability to sustain competitive employment, especially in cases where an adult was once capable of sustaining employment.
At Nash Disability Law we know that applying for Social Security Disability can be overwhelming and because symptoms of autism can vary, these cases can be highly complex and difficult to explain. Our exclusive focus on Social Security Disability has provided us with extensive experience in helping clients to navigate the system and gain approval for their DIB, SSI or DAC benefits. If you or a loved one need help making sense of the disability benefits available for autism, call our Chicagoland disability attorneys at Nash Disability Law for help with your Social Security Disability claim.