Asperger's syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that causes developmental delays, primarily in the areas of socialization and communication. People with Asperger's often have difficulty relating to others and have a singularly focused interest in one topic.
In the past, Asperger's syndrome was referred to as "high-functioning" autism because it didn't result in language delays, so people with the syndrome might be seen as "quirky" or "eccentric." But Asperger's, like other autism spectrum disorders, can pose significant social, communication, and behavior challenges for both children and adults.
Because Asperger's syndrome lies on the autism spectrum, some adults with milder forms of Asperger's are able to live their lives similarly to neurotypical (not on the autism spectrum) people. It's unlikely that they'll qualify for disability benefits based on Asperger's alone.
But adults with more severe forms of Asperger's might qualify for disability benefits if their symptoms prevent them from working full-time for at least one year. Children with Asperger's may get benefits if they're missing developmental milestones, but their case will be reviewed when they turn 18 to see if they still qualify under the rules for adults.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has different standards for adults and children to qualify for disability benefits. Both children and adults need to provide the SSA with medical records documenting symptoms of Asperger's, including:
Adults with Asperger's symptoms may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if they meet the financial eligibility requirements—usually involving work history or asset limits—for each program. Children are eligible only for SSI benefits, but may be able to qualify for SSDI after they turn 18 as disabled adult children.
Social Security can award benefits in one of two ways: using the "Blue Book" of impairments that the agency has already determined are disabling, or showing that you're unable to work full-time under a "medical-vocational allowance."
Adults with especially severe Asperger's symptoms might be able to get disability benefits automatically under Social Security's listing 12.10 for autism spectrum disorders. To qualify for benefits using this listing, your medical records will need to show the following:
Your medical records will also need to show that you have an "extreme" limitation in one, or a "marked" limitation in two, of the following areas:
The difference in degree between "marked" and "extreme" limitations isn't very well defined, but it helps to think about the extent to which you can do those activities independently. The less you're able to do by yourself, the more severe your limitations will be. For more information on Listing 12.10 for autism spectrum disorders, see our article on disability for autism.
Many people with Asperger's are able to take care of themselves without a lot of assistance and probably won't meet the strict requirements of the autism spectrum listing. But symptoms of Asperger's can restrict—and sometimes eliminate—the types of jobs you can do.
Social Security decides whether any jobs exist that you can do despite limitations from your Asperger's symptoms by first determining your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is a set of restrictions that reflect the most you're able to do at work. A typical RFC for somebody with Asperger's will likely include restrictions on jobs that involve working closely with coworkers, supervisors, or the general public.
The amount of limitations in your RFC depends on how intense your symptoms are. Somebody with mild to moderate difficulty talking to other people might have a restriction on work that involves public contact—such as most retail or service industry jobs—while somebody who engages in severe repetition of behaviors (like hand flapping) might not be able to perform any jobs without causing excessive distractions.
Social Security will look at your work history and compare your current RFC with the mental and physical demands of your past jobs to see if you could do those jobs today. If not, then— depending on your age, education, and past experience—the agency will determine whether any other jobs exist in significant numbers within the limits of your RFC. If you can't work even the least demanding jobs, the SSA will award you disability benefits.
Children between the ages of 3 and 18 can qualify for disability by meeting the requirements of listing 112.08 for autism spectrum disorder. Just like with the equivalent adult listing, your (or your child's) medical records must contain evidence of difficulty with communication and social interaction and struggles with basic areas of mental functioning.
The SSA will look for evidence of the above—such as whether your child plays with others—by reviewing both medical and non-medical sources. School records, including any individualized education plans (IEP) for your child, are useful to help the agency determine whether your child is disabled.
Even if your child doesn't exactly meet the requirements of Listing 112.08, you can still receive disability benefits if their limitations "functionally equal" the listings. For more information, see our article on filing for disability for Asperger's syndrome in children.
Updated December 12, 2022