April is National Autism Awareness Month

Submitted by pec on

April is National Autism Awareness Month, and if you have been diagnosed with autism, you may be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

ASD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social communication and interaction. It is referred to as a spectrum disorder because it doesn’t affect all victims in quite the same way and the symptoms range from mild to severe and can co-occur with other conditions.

Common Characteristics of ASD are:

  • difficulty in understanding and responding to social cues like facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice;
  • challenges in forming and maintaining relationships and engaging in reciprocal social interactions;
  • delays in language development, ranging from the total absence of speech to highly advanced vocabulary with difficulties in the use of language in a social context;
  • difficulties with understanding non-literal language, like sarcasm and metaphors;
  • engaging in repetitive movements or activities, like rocking, hand-flapping or the spinning of objects;
  • the victim becomes distressed by alterations in environment or routine;
  • heightened or diminished sensitivity to lights, sounds, smells, textures or tastes.

Prevalence of Autism and Its impact on Individuals and Families

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, the prevalence of autism has been steadily increasing over the past few decades. The most recent data reveals that approximately 1 in 44 children in the U.S. have been identified with ASD.

Some challenges faced by individuals with autism are:

  • social and communication difficulties;
  • sensory sensitivities and challenges with change or routine;
  • employment challenges and financial implications.

Disability Benefits for Individuals with Autism

Qualifying for disability benefits related to autism in adults typically involves meeting specific criteria outlined by the Social Security Administration (SSA). To qualify for disability benefits, the applicant must meet the SSA's definition of disability, which includes having a medically determinable impairment that prevents them from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA) for at least 12 continuous months.

The impairment must be severe enough to significantly limit the victim’s ability to perform basic work activities, like walking, standing, sitting, lifting, and interacting with others.

The SSA keeps a listing of impairments, also known as the Blue Book, which describes specific criteria used for evaluating various medical conditions, including autism spectrum disorder. To qualify for disability benefits based on autism, the individual's symptoms must meet the criteria outlined in Section 12.10 of the Listing of Impairments, which focuses on neurodevelopmental disorders.

As well as meeting the criteria outlined in the Listing of Impairments, the victim must demonstrate functional limitations that prevent him or her from engaging in substantial gainful activity. These could include challenges with the following:

  • social interaction;
  • communication;
  • adaptive functioning;
  • sensory processing;
  • daily living activities.

The SSA requires extensive medical evidence that supports the disability claim, which includes documents showing the diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder by a qualified medical professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or developmental pediatrician. Medical evidence should include clinical observations, diagnostic test results, treatment records, and assessments of the individual's functional limitations and impairments through the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment.

Applying for Disability Benefits for Autism

The following needs to be done:

  • Gather the necessary medical and educational documentation.
  • Compile a thorough and accurate application.
  • Seek legal advice or assistance when applying for benefits.

Support Services for Individuals with Autism

Support services for individuals with autism include the following:

  • Early intervention programs, which provide services and support to young children with developmental delays or disabilities, including autism. These programs focus on improving developmental outcomes using speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and behavioral interventions. These services are provided through state-funded programs such as Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or state-specific early intervention programs.
  • Special education services are available to students with autism who require specialized instruction and support in the school setting.
  • Individuals with autism may qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a Section 504 plan, which outline accommodations, modifications, and services to meet their specific educational needs such as classroom accommodations, social skills training, behavioral interventions, and access to support personnel including special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, and behavioral therapists.
  • Behavioral and developmental therapies are offered autism treatment and support. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a commonly used therapeutic approach.
  • Community-based support services offer assistance and resources to individuals diagnosed with autism and their families which promote community inclusion and participation. These services may include support groups, respite care, recreational programs, supported employment, vocational training and independent living skills training. Not for profit organizations, community centers, and government agencies often offer community-based support services which are tailored to meet the needs of individuals with autism and their families.
  • Medical and healthcare services play a vital role in helping to address the medical needs of those with autism which may include access to neurologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians, and any other healthcare professionals who specialize in autism diagnosis, management and treatment.
  • Legal and advocacy services offer support, guidance and representation to individuals with autism and their families so that their rights are protected. These services may include assistance with the accessing of disability benefits, navigating the special education system, advocating for accommodations and services, and addressing discrimination or rights violations.

Spreading Autism Awareness and Advocacy

Participating in National Autism Awareness Month provides an opportunity to raise awareness, promote understanding, and advocate for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. Here are several ways to get involved and make a positive impact during National Autism Awareness Month:

  • Use social media platforms to share facts, personal stories, and resources related to autism awareness throughout the month.
  • Use hashtags such as #AutismAwarenessMonth, #AutismAcceptance, and #LightItUpBlue to join the online conversation and reach a broader audience.
  • Attend or organize awareness events in your community, such as workshops, seminars, panel discussions, or fundraising events.
  • Wear blue or the Autism Awareness Ribbon.
  • Volunteer with local autism organizations such as schools, therapy centers, or support groups.

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