Social Security Disability Benefits for Asperger's Syndrome

Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome may qualify for Social Security disability benefits if their symptoms are severely limiting.

By , J.D. · University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law
Updated 12/12/2022

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.

Is Asperger's a Disability?

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.

How Do I Get Disability Benefits for Asperger's Syndrome?

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:

  • monotonous, stiff, and rapid speech
  • uncoordinated and clumsy movements
  • an inability to perceive, empathize, or be sensitive to other people's emotions
  • difficulty grasping humor
  • repetitive behavior or tics ("stimming")
  • unusual nonverbal communication, such as the avoidance of eye contact, minimal facial expressions, and unusual posture, and
  • an all-consuming interest in one or two narrow topics.

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.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits for Asperger's as an Adult

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."

Meeting a Listed Impairment

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:

  • difficulty with social interaction and both verbal and nonverbal communication, and
  • significantly restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.

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:

  • understanding, remembering, or applying information (such as recognizing a mistake and being able to correct it)
  • interacting with other people (such as knowing how to ask for help)
  • concentrating or focusing long enough to complete tasks on time (such as being able to ignore or avoid distractions), and
  • adapting or managing yourself (such as maintaining hygiene).

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.

Getting a Medical-Vocational Allowance

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 number 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 that are within the limits of your RFC. If you can't work even the least demanding jobs (for instance, because of an inability to complete work on time), the SSA will award you disability benefits.

Getting Disability Benefits for Children With Asperger's

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 Nolo's article on filing for disability for Asperger's syndrome in children.

Talk to a Disability Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Boost Your Chance of Being Approved

Get the Compensation You Deserve

Our experts have helped thousands like you get cash benefits.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you