Learn how to show financial need and level of disability to qualify autistic children under age 18 for Supplemental Security Income/SSI disability payments.

The purpose of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments is to help disabled people, or their families, who have limited financial resources. Children with certain disabilities can be eligible for Social Security disability benefits beginning from birth. In the case of parents with autistic children, this money can help provide needed therapies and care to maximize a child’s abilities and strengths.

Benefits for Children with Autism

Applying for SSI is a two-step process of showing financial need and using medical evidence to demonstrate the level of disability.

Financial Need

The Social Security Administration provides Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments to disabled people with limited financial resources. It is a needs-based program, meaning your family income and assets must fall below a certain level.

To meet the SSI’s financial criteria, they first look at your total assets, or what they call resources. These are items you could sell if needed to provide food and shelter. However, there are many essential assets they don’t count, such as your personal car.  To qualify a child, the child’s countable assets must be $2000 or less, and the parents’ countable assets must be less than $2,000 if a single parent, or $3000 if it’s a two-parent household. There are additional rules that apply if a parent’s resources are over the limit, in which case the extra will be attributed to the child’s $2,000 limit. Some typical countable resources are cash on hand, and money in checking accounts and savings accounts.

Regarding income, the SSA measures your countable income against the maximum benefit level; if the child’s countable income including income deemed from his or her parents living in the same household less than the benefit level, you will get the difference between the maximum benefit and the countable income. In 2020, the highest federal SSI monthly payment was $783 for an individual child. Some states supplement that amount.

For a child, a portion of the parent’s income is “deemed” to count as the child’s income. As with resources, there are types of income that are not counted, such as food stamps, and income received from foster care support. If your disabled child receives child support payments, the SSA will count two-thirds of that amount in your total income, and exclude one-third of it. If there are additional children in the house, there may be a reduction in the income otherwise countable.

In general, the Social Security Administration states that when single parents live with another adult who is not the child’s other parent, the income from that person is not counted.  For the income of another adult to count, the two people have to be legally married, or hold themselves out as a married couple to the public. Otherwise, if you have roommates who are adults that you are not married to, their income will not be counted. Their relationship to you doesn’t matter, so they could be romantic interests, adult relatives, friends, or just housemates – as long as you’re not married or holding out and the other adult is not the disabled child’s parent, SSA won’t attribute their income to your child. However, if that person is providing the child with shelter or food from them, your child’s benefit  may be reduced by free or subsidized shelter or food received from that other adult.

The financial requirements can be very confusing. SSA encourages individuals to call their offices to help get answers to your questions (see numbers below) and to file an application whenever there is a possibility of financial eligibility.

Disability Determination for Children Under 18

Children with certain disabilities can be eligible for Social Security disability benefits beginning from birth. Because autism is a Spectrum Disorder, whether children qualify for assistance will depend on the severity of their symptoms. To qualify for a disability rating, the SSA uses different criteria for children than for adults.

Children with severe autism limitations will generally qualify. The SSA considers a child under 18 to be “disabled” if they have a permanent physical or mental condition that very seriously limits their activities.

The Social Security Administration clarifies that conditions must be established with medical evidence. This means doctor’s documentation of symptoms, along with lab results. A parent’s own listing of symptoms is not enough alone to show the disability, but a parent can help provide full details of the level of daily care and assistance that the child needs. It’s also helpful to include written statements from any professionals who work with your child and can attest to their challenges. These can include health care provides, teachers, or caretakers. This site offers helpful disability forms for children’s SSI claim

Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB) for Autism

We’ll show you how adults who were disabled before age 22 can qualify for Childhood Disability Benefits if a parent is eligible to receive Social Security payments through retirement or death.

Dear Benefits Advisor,

My daughter was diagnosed with autism when she was 4 years old.  She is now 18 years old and eligible for SSI.  Is she eligible to receive SSD based on me and her father’s working and contributions to SSA?  If so, what would need to be done to switch from SSI to SSD?

Angie

Dear Angie,

If you or your daughter’s father is receiving Social Security now or her father is deceased, you can apply for childhood disability benefits (CDB) for your daughter. If those conditions are not now met, keep her medical records that establish the diagnosis and severity prior to age twenty-two. Later, when you or her father becomes entitled to benefits or dies, she can apply for CDB, assuming that she is not married at that time.

Sincerely,

Benefits Advisor

SSI Benefit for Two Children with Autism

Learn how people with severe hearing loss can seek work modifications, either on their own or by securing a Social Security residual functional capability (RFC) rating to restrict work conditions.

Hi Benefits Advisor,

Our oldest son is receiving SSI due to Autism and we recently received a second diagnosis of the disorder for our second child. We have just applied for SSI for him and are awaiting their decision.Assuming he gets qualified I have a couple of questions. First, we are currently receiving around $106 per month for child #1.  Using the formula that SSA provides us each month on how they determine his amount I came up with a ballpark figure for two children of $670 ($335 each).  Does this sound possible?  I make $3945 per month gross.  This is earned income and the only income for our family which consists of me, my wife and our two kids.  It’s been really difficult finding info online for figuring amounts for two disabled children. Second, does the monthly income limit increase with a second disabled child?  Right now I think our limit is $4158 since we have one child considered an “ineligible” child by not being qualified yet. Lastly, I’m trying to understand the asset limits for having a child/children receiving SSI.  I’ve read where an individual can’t have more than $2,000 in assets to qualify.  Does this mean our child/children can each have $2,000 in assets and we as parents can also have $2,000 in assets and still qualify?  Or does our entire household need to have $2,000 or less to qualify? I apologize for giving you so much to ponder.  We really do appreciate your time and your expertise in helping to educate us on this resource.

Thank you,

Chris in St. Joseph, MI

Dear Chris,

The calculation of how much parental income is deemed (considered) available for the support of disabled children is the same whether you have one or more disabled children. The only difference is that with multiple disabled children, the deemed amount is split among the children.

In the case of your family, I calculate the same figure as you, $333 for each of your two children ($335 each this year, 2017). The calculation follows the formula given you by the Social Security Administration. The formula makes provisions for parents supporting themselves and their non-disabled children and gives a work incentive by not counting part of the earned income.

With regard to resource rules, two parents living in the same household with one or more disabled children can have $3,000 in countable assets and each disabled child can have $2,000. If you and your wife have more than $3,000, the excess will be divided between your two disabled children and counted toward their individual $2,000 limits. Note that several assets are not countable including but not limited to a home you live in, one vehicle, resources necessary for self-support (i.e. property used to produce income) and certain kinds of burial policies. 

Sincerely,

Benefits Advisor

Technical Listing Requirements for Autism Spectrum Disorder

112.10 Autism Spectrum Disorder, for children age 3 to attainment of age 18, satisfied by A and B:

  1. Medical documentation of both of the following:
  2. Qualitative deficits in verbal communication, nonverbal communication, and social interaction; and
  3. Significantly restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.

AND

  1. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning;
  2. Understand, remember, or apply information.
  3. Interact with others.
  4. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace.
  5. Adapt or manage oneself.

Your child’s condition will be compared to the guidelines, so you and your doctor can review them and collect the necessary evidence to show your child’s challenges. While each case is decided individually, if a child’s autism symptoms keep the child from doing average activities for his/her age, it is likely they will meet the disability definition.

State agencies make the initial disability determination, which can take up to five months. If the agency needs more information, they will contact you to schedule an examination and/or tests, which will be paid for. If your child is found to be disabled, monthly benefits will then be calculated. If a disability rating is denied, you can appeal.

To start the application process, you can call Social Security directly at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or visit your local Social Security Office. To find your closest office, go to this website and type in your zip code: www.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp.