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By Diana Wade
Disability Advocate 

Can autism spectrum disorder qualify for disability benefits?

Ask the Advocate


October 12, 2019

Diana Wade

Question: My son is a high functioning autistic adult, 25 years old. He has tried to get jobs, but once employers talk to him, they immediately see that he is not capable of working and tends to get confused. He is also a client of Kern Regional Center and receives services through them. We want him to be more self-sufficient and be able to live a somewhat normal life. We are very worried about what will happen to him when my husband and I are no longer able to care for him. He has never lived on his own. Please help!

Answer: Autism spectrum disorder is a serious matter that most individuals with this diagnosis should be found disabled. There are some high performing individuals with autism that can work but will have severe problems with social interaction. Some have difficulty understanding even basic interactions. They are mostly unable to understand body language or facial expression. The lack of such awareness is hard to understand, especially for employers.

Medical evidence and testing are crucial in these cases. Although your son is an adult, supporting school records are especially helpful. Any IEP reports, school psychologist testing and/or any notes from teachers will be very helpful.

If your son has participated in any day programs to help him navigate social interaction that is also helpful. Letters from family members and even his pediatrician will help.

Kern Regional Center is an excellent source. They usually test clients to make sure they meet the criteria for services. Sometimes they recommend that a client try working in a supported environment like the Good Will. Other supportive employments, sometimes called "sheltered work," will have periodic work efficiency reports like D.A.R.T.

If you have records that show he was diagnosed and disabled before age 22, you should apply for both SSI and Disabled Adult Child (DAC). A DAC application and proof he was disabled before age 22 will allow him to collect benefits from earnings from his parents if one or the other is disabled, retired or deceased. The SSI application will allow him to apply to Taft College, a campus that helps individuals become self-sufficient.

Social Security will look at the diagnosis and then determine if the condition is severe enough to either meet the Listing 12.10 or prevent ordinary work on a regular and sustained basis. A "regular and continuing basis" means 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent work schedule. The claimant must have both the mental and physical abilities to perform sustained work activities. When the evidence supports a finding that the claimant has had a substantial loss of ability to meet the demands of basic work-related activities on a sustained basis, the unskilled sedentary occupational base is significantly eroded, and a finding of disability is justified under the Social Security Rules.

An Accredited Disability Representative with more than 20 years experience, Diana Wade believes her clientele can be comfortable knowing that she is recognized by SSA and a charter member of NADR. To contact Ms. Wade call (661) 821-0494, email or visit


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