Social Security Disability Insurance for Adults with Disabilities

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Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI, also known as SSD) is an entitlement benefit. The amount of income an individual receives from SSDI is dependent on the amount the individual or his or her responsible parent paid into the social security program.

As an adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there may be two ways for you to qualify for SSDI. The first is if you have worked a minimum amount of time (the amount of time required depends on how old you are) and have paid into the Social Security system. If you become unable to work because of your disability, you may qualify for SSDI payments.

The second way you may qualify for SSDI is through a family member. If you are unmarried and can prove that you were disabled before age 22, you may be entitled to SSDI payments if one of your parents worked and paid into the Social Security system and if your mom or dad is retired, disabled, or deceased. The Social Security system refers to an individual who qualifies for SSDI through this method as a Disabled Adult Child (DAC). If you are an adult with a disability occurring before age 22 but your parent is not yet retired, disabled, or deceased, the system unofficially may refer to you as a “DAC in waiting.”

How to Apply

To apply for SSDI, you will need to contact your local Social Security Administration (SSA) field office. You may apply by:

  • completing the application online, or
  • calling for an appointment and applying at your local Social Security office, or
  • applying over the phone at 1-800-772-1213; if you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call TTY 1-800-325-0778.

Proving Disability

Regardless of whether you have worked or if you are relying on a parent’s work history to obtain SSDI, you will need to prove that you are disabled to receive SSDI benefits. The process of proving disability is the same as for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid.

The federal government defines “disabled” as someone who is:

“Unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.”

The local SSA office will gather information about your disability. You will need to provide the SSA field office with the following information:

  • description of the impairment(s)/disability
  • who and where the individual is being treated for the disability
  • any other information that relates to the disability

If you have worked in the past and are claiming that you are no longer able to work, you will need to provide information to explain why your condition has become more severe such that it limits your ability to work now.

The local SSA field office sends the information to a Disability Determination Services (DDS) office to evaluate the disability. The DDS offices are state agencies that are responsible for gathering medical information and making the initial decision about whether the applicant is disabled. (Though state agencies, these offices are funded by the federal government.)

Usually, the DDS gathers evidence from the applicant’s own medical sources. If that evidence is unavailable or insufficient to make a determination, the DDS will arrange for an independent evaluation for a consultative examination (CE) to obtain the additional information needed.

After all the information is collected, the decision about disability is made at the state DDS office, and the case is sent back to the local SSA office for next steps. If you are found eligible for SSDI payments, your local SSA office will calculate your monthly payment. If you receive both SSDI and SSI, the SSA office will adjust your benefit award accordingly. If you are not found to be “disabled” as defined by the federal government, you have the right to appeal the decision.

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Last Updated: December 19, 2013

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.


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