Filing for Disability for Asperger's Syndrome in Children

A child with an Asperger's diagnosis and impaired social, personal, or cognitive functioning may qualify for disability benefits.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Children who have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome that severely affects their functioning at home or school may be able to get disability benefits through the SSI (Supplemental Security Income) program.

Asperger's syndrome is sometimes referred to as "high-functioning" autism.

What Is Asperger's Syndrome?

Asperger's Syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder and is considered by many experts to be a milder version of autism. Both Asperger's Syndrome and autism are considered subgroups of a larger category, called Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) in the United States.

In Asperger's Syndrome, children who are affected by the disorder often experience social isolation and sometimes exhibit eccentric behavior. The speech of some children might sound peculiar because of abnormalities of inflection, and their talking tends to follow a repetitive pattern. Clumsiness can be found in articulation and gross motor behavior. They usually have a deep interest in one particular area, such as cars and trains, door knobs and hinges, or meteorology and astronomy, which doesn't leave much room for other areas that might be more age-appropriate for the child.

How Is Asperger's Diagnosed?

Doctors look at several factors to diagnose Asperger's Syndrome:

  • problems with nonverbal interaction, such as facial expression and body postures
  • an inability to develop peer relationships with a lack of social or emotional closeness to other children, and
  • a lack of sharing with other children of enjoyment and interests.

Also, children who suffer from Asperger's Syndrome may have:

  • a preoccupation with a particular interest, which may appear abnormal by the degree of focus in the activity
  • specific routines or ritual ways of doing things, or
  • specific mannerisms such as finger twisting or a particular movement with a certain part of the body.

In diagnosing Asperger's Syndrome, a physician will also look at a child's ability for social interaction with other children, speech development, and eye contact.

Is Asperger's Considered a Disability?

Asperger's can be disabling when it seriously interferes with school work, family life, and/or social relationships with other children. In fact, to be diagnosed with Asperger's or autism spectrum disorder, a child must have deficits in social communication and social interaction that cause significant impairments at home or at school. If you can show that your child's functioning in these areas is limited, your child's Asperger's will be considered a disability.

How Social Security Evaluates Asperger's Syndrome

Social Security updated its disability "listings" and changed the name of listing 112.10 from Autism Spectrum Disorder and Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders to Autism Spectrum Disorder. While the listing doesn't specifically mention Asperger's Syndrome, Social Security evaluates AS under this listing.

Listing 112.10 requires that your child have problems with social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication and have "significantly restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities." (Note the updated listing no longer requires that the child have a lack of imaginative activity.)

In addition, you'll need to show Social Security how your child's functioning at school and at home is severely limited by Asperger's. Specifically, your child must either have an extreme limitation in one of the following areas or a "marked" limitation in two of the following areas:

  • interacting with others (ability to play and cooperate with others, form and keep friendships, handle conflicts, initiate or sustain conversation, understand social cues)
  • managing oneself (ability to regulate emotions, have appropriate responses to authority figures, protect oneself from harm, maintain hygiene)
  • understanding and using information (ability to remember and use information, follow instructions, solve problems, use reason to make decisions), and
  • concentrating on and completing activities (ability to avoid distraction and engage in activities at a reasonable and consistent pace).

Note that "marked" is worse than moderate but less than extreme—you can think of it as seriously limiting.

The ability of your child's medical and school records to show the severity of your child's Asperger's Syndrome will be important to Social Security's evaluation. In particular, Social Security will give a lot of weight to your child's doctor's opinion of your child's level of functioning.

Applying for Benefits From the Social Security Administration

If you believe your child may be disabled due to Asperger's Syndrome, contact your local SSA office to set up an appointment to submit an application for SSI disability benefits. You can call the SSA at (800) 772-1213.

You can also start your SSI application online, but applying online is a two-step process. First, complete the online Child Disability Report, which asks how your child's condition affects his or her ability to function. Next, an SSA representative will call you to discuss your financial eligibility for the SSI program and to help you fill out the SSI application.

For more information on disability claims, please see our topic area on disability for children.

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