• Resources
  •   >  Mental disorders
Mental disorders

Is Autism a Disability? How to Get Disability Benefits for Autism

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
May 16, 2023  ·  6 min read
Why trust us?

Atticus offers free, high-quality disability advice for Americans who can't work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience, and have helped over 10,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.

See if you qualify

Autism can qualify you for disability benefits, assuming your condition prevents you from holding a job. Categorized by the Social Security Administration (SSA) as a mental disorder, autism is a qualifying condition if it meets certain medical requirements from the SSA.

That being said, it’s notoriously difficult to get Social Security disability for autism — individuals with autism spectrum disorder account for just 0.40% of those who receive disability benefits. As such, it’s important to understand how the SSA defines autism spectrum disorder and what the SSA criteria are to qualify with autism. Based on that information, we’ll discuss what next steps you should take.

See if your autism qualifies for disability.

Is autism a disability?

Yes, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological developmental disability protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ASD results from brain differences and has a wide range of possible impacts.

ASD can qualify for Social Security disability benefits if you are unable to work because of it and if it meets other SSA requirements for eligibility.

How the SSA defines autism

The SSA considers autism as a mental disorder. According to its definition, people with autism spectrum disorder experience difficulty in verbal and nonverbal communication as well as in social interaction. 

They also may display patterns of behavior, interests, or activities that are significantly restricted and repetitive. Further, the SSA states that those with autism may struggle in certain areas, such as understanding or remembering information or concentrating.

The SSA also notes that individuals with autism may deal with behavioral difficulties ranging from hyperactivity and a short attention span to impulsivity.

While autism may be considered a learning disability or intellectual disability according to other legal standards, the SSA doesn’t use those terms and will follow the criteria below when evaluating SSDI or SSI applications.

Qualifying conditions on the autism spectrum

ASD also includes conditions that were historically treated as separate disorders. For example, someone with Asperger syndrome, autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder would all fall on the autism spectrum.


Can you get disability for autism?

If you’re unable to work because of your autism, then it can qualify you for Social Security disability benefits. Children with autism can also qualify for SSI.

Still, there are strict criteria you’ll need to satisfy. For example, you will need to provide medical documentation demonstrating you’ve sought treatment for your autism and it continues to affect your ability to work. It can take months or years to get approved for disability benefits.

SSI for children with ASD

SSI applications for children will also need to meet the program’s income and asset requirements. Those requirements could be difficult to meet since income from parents will generally qualify as income for the child. (Learn more about what qualifies as income for SSI.)

Additional qualifying conditions

It’s easier to qualify for benefits if you have another qualifying condition in addition to autism. It’s especially hard to qualify with a mental illness such as autism. 

The following are some common qualifying conditions you may experience alongside autism:

Learn more about other medical conditions that qualify for SSDI and SSI.


Criteria for getting disability with autism

To receive Social Security benefits, you need to provide medical documentation that shows although you’ve gotten treatment, you’re unable to work because of your condition. Possible examples of documentation include doctor’s notes, prescriptions, treatment plans, results from lab tests, and other official diagnoses from your primary care provider (PCP), therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

There are two main criteria to qualify for SSDI or SSI with autism, according to the SSA Blue Book.

1. You must have medical documentation of both:

  • Measurable deficiencies in both verbal and nonverbal communication as well as in social interactions

  • Patterns of behavior, interests, or activities that are very limited or repetitive

2. You must have medical documents demonstrating that you experience extreme limitation in at least one — or marked limitation in at least two — of the following areas:

  • Your ability to understand, remember, or apply information

  • Your ability to interact with others, like bosses, customers, or coworkers

  • Your ability to concentrate, persist in a task, or keep up a sustained rate of work

  • Your ability to self-manage or adapt to different situations

If you have an extreme limitation, you may be unable to function independently in that area for a sustained amount of time. If you have a marked limitation, you can handle the activity on your own, but your ability to do it is seriously limited and you may have difficulty doing it for a sustained period.

You won’t need documentation for every example of ASD limiting your ability to function in a work environment. However, you will need clear documentation or other evidence that your condition affects the abilities listed above.

Note that under SSA rules, autism spectrum disorder can, but doesn’t need to, include language or intellectual impairment to qualify for disability benefits.

Questions to ask yourself before applying

Before moving forward with an application for autism disability benefits, it is helpful to ask yourself some questions. If your answer to most of the following is “yes,” then there’s a greater chance your autism will allow you to qualify for benefits:

  • Do I struggle to communicate or build relationships? Have I lost jobs because of it?

  • Do I find it very difficult to control compulsive behavior or language?

  • Do I have a hard time following instructions or concentrating?

  • Am I extremely sensitive to light, sound, touch, smells, or other sensory input?

  • Do I have any other conditions, such as anxiety or a sleep disorder?


My autism meets the criteria. Now what?

If your autism meets the SSA criteria outlined above and you have detailed documentation, the next step is applying for disability benefits. The application process is lengthy, so get the ball rolling as soon as you can.

Although you can apply even if you’re not completely sure that your condition will meet SSA criteria, know that applying is an involved process. As such, it’s helpful to have a certain level of certainty before investing too much time and energy. 

Here’s some advice that might help you make up your mind on whether or not to apply.

Apply now if:

  • You’ve been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and have thorough medical documentation of your condition.

  • Your symptoms prevent you from being able to work, even with treatment.

  • Your autism meets the criteria outlined in the previous section.

  • You have another health condition that qualifies for disability.

Consider waiting and applying later if:

  • You’ve been diagnosed with autism but are able to manage your symptoms enough to keep working.

  • You’re still working, even if you think your autism may prevent you from continuing to do so in the future.

Probably don’t apply if:

  • Your autism isn’t preventing you from continuing to work in some capacity.

  • You earn more than $1,550 per month (what the SSA considers substantial gainful activity).

Another way to save some time in the application process is by taking our Social Security quiz. If it looks likely that you’ll qualify for disability, a member of the Atticus team will get in touch to learn more about your condition and your situation. 

They can then pair you with a qualified disability lawyer if you’re interested. You don’t have to work with our lawyer if you don’t want to and you’ll never pay anything upfront — you only have to pay your lawyer after winning benefits.

What type of benefits should I apply for?

There are two different government programs that offer support to individuals who can’t work due to a medical condition: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Both programs also provide health insurance (Medicaid for SSI and Medicare for SSDI).

As you begin the application process, it’s helpful to understand the differences between SSI and SSDI

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI is only available to those with few assets and little income. To be eligible, you must earn under roughly $900 per month and have less than $2,000 in other savings and assets ($3,000 if you’re married). 

If you’re a parent applying on behalf of your child, know that children can qualify for SSI. Here’s some advice for a parent applying for disability for their child.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI is intended for those who have worked for at least five of the last 10 years and paid taxes.


How much is a disability check for autism?

The average disability check was $1,665.14 in October 2023.

The maximum possible disability benefit for autism in 2024 is $943 per month for SSI and about $3,822 per month for SSDI. These maximums apply regardless of what condition you have or whether you apply with one condition or multiple.

The actual amount you’ll receive depends on your specific circumstances. 

For SSDI, your benefit amount depends on your work and tax history. For SSI, it’s based on your other sources of income. In the case of child claimants (under age 18), parents’ incomes and financial support likely qualify as the child’s income.

For additional information, here’s a look at how much people make on SSDI and SSI.


What if my autism doesn’t meet the criteria?

​​If your autism doesn’t align with the criteria above, applying for disability is still an option. 

For adult applicants, keep in mind that you’ll need to prove you can’t work due to your autism. If you believe you can prove that, you have a chance to qualify for benefits.

In the case of child applicants, qualification may be easier after the child turns 18 because the SSA is less likely to count their parents’ financial support as the child’s income.

Ultimately, qualifying for disability isn't easy. Even for those whose autism does meet the criteria, it’s likely their first application will get denied. An estimated 70% to 80% of applicants get turned down on their first attempt, so it's important not to give up if you fall into that group.

An appeal is always an option, and appealing will offer the opportunity to submit new medical evidence and eventually make your case before a judge. The chances of winning a disability appeal are actually much better in front of a judge — more than half of applicants get approved at this stage.

Should you need financial or legal assistance as you continue to seek disability benefits for your autism, Atticus is here to help with resources for people with disabilities.

Build a winning strategy for your disability application.

Other conditions that can qualify for disability:

Alzheimer's

Anemia

Anxiety

Arthritis

Asthma

Autism

Back pain

Bipolar disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder

Brain tumor

Breast cancer

Cancer

Carpal tunnel

Colostomy bag

Coma/Vegetative States

COPD

Crohn's disease

Depression

Diabetes

Dialysis

Epilepsy

Fibromyalgia

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Insomnia

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Kidney disease

Long Covid

Lupus

Mental illness

Migraines

Narcolepsy

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)

Panic disorder

Parkinson's

Peripheral neuropathy

PTSD

Rheumatoid Arthritis Schizophrenia

Sciatica

Sickle cell

Ulcerative colitis

See all conditions

Recommended Articles:

What Medical Conditions Qualify for Social Security Disability?

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

Qualifying for Disability: Everything You Should Know

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

See what you qualify for

How long has your condition made it hard to work?

Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
About Us
  • Mission
  • Careers

At the bottom of many websites, you'll find a small disclaimer: "We are not a law firm and are not qualified to give legal advice." If you see this, run the other way. These people can't help you: they're prohibited by law from giving meaningful advice, recommending specific lawyers, or even telling you whether you need a lawyer at all.

There’s no disclaimer here: Atticus is a law firm, and we are qualified to give legal advice. We can answer your most pressing questions, make clear recommendations, and search far and wide to find the right lawyer for you.

Two important things to note: If we give you legal advice, it will be through a lawyer on our staff communicating with you directly. (Don't make important decisions about your case based solely on this or any other website.) And if we take you on as a client, it will be through a document you sign. (No attorney-client relationship arises from using this site or calling us.)

  • This website is lawyer advertising.
  • Cal. Bar #23984
  • © 2024 Atticus Law, P.C.

Terms | Privacy | California Privacy | Disclaimer