Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD) and Disability Benefits

Parents of children with PDD-NOS usually have a more difficult time getting benefits than parents of children with autism.

By , J.D., University of Missouri School of Law

Individuals who are on the autism spectrum but don't have all the symptoms of autism or Asperger's syndrome may be diagnosed with PDD-NOS, or pervasive development disorder - not otherwise specified. This condition, which is characterized by difficulty communicating, problems interacting with others, and a highly limited group of interests and activities, may qualify a person for disability benefits in one of two ways.

Some individuals—adults or children—will meet the criteria for autism spectrum disorder found in Social Security's Listings of Impairments. Adults who do not meet the listing might instead receive a medical-vocational allowance if they can prove that their impairments prevent them from working.

What Is PDD-NOS?

Pervasive development disorder is an autism spectrum disorder marked by severe deficits in social interaction and communication as well as limited or stereotyped behaviors and interests. It is a sort of "residual" diagnosis used when a person's symptoms do not quite meet the diagnostic criteria for autism, Asperger's syndrome, or other developmental disorders. Sometimes referred to as "atypical autism," PDD-NOS is often diagnosed later in life than autism—sometimes in one's teen years and occasionally in adulthood.

The symptoms of PDD-NOS, particularly those involving social behavior, are frequently milder than those of autism, but not always. In addition to social and communicative difficulties, a person diagnosed with PDD-NOS may have impaired motor skills, unusual or rigid routines, repetitive behaviors and movements, and mild intellectual deficits. It is important to remember that every case of PDD-NOS is different, and symptoms that are prominent in one person may be entirely absent in another.

PDD-NOS and Social Security's Blue Book Listings

The easiest way to receive disability benefits for PDD-NOS is to meet the criteria set forth in Social Security's impairment listing for autism spectrum disorder. While many individuals diagnosed with autism will meet the listing, those with PDD-NOS will likely find it more difficult. To meet this listing, the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires that a person with PDD-NOS must demonstrate deficits in social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication skills, as well as significantly restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.

In addition, an applicant with PDD-NOS must show that their symptoms cause an extreme limitation in one of the following areas, or a "marked" (severe) limitation in two of the following areas:

  • understanding and remembering information (following instructions, learning new things, applying new knowledge to tasks)
  • interacting with others using socially appropriate behaviors
  • concentrating on and finishing tasks, and/or
  • being able to manage oneself (knowing what is acceptable work performance, maintaining personal hygiene and attire appropriate to a work setting, being aware of normal hazards and taking appropriate precautions).

The SSA requires medical documentation to prove that the above listing has been met. This can include hospital records, psychiatric records, diagnostic tests, and notes from counseling or therapy. In addition, the opinion of your treating physician or mental health provider as to whether you or your child meets the above listing can be extremely important to your case. School records may also be useful to show the extent of the impairments.

If you are an adult and the SSA determines that your PDD-NOS does not meet the criteria of the impairment listing for autism, it is still possible for you to receive disability benefits through a medical-vocational allowance, which is the most common basis for receiving disability benefits.

Medical-Vocational Allowances for PDD-NOS

In determining whether you qualify for a medical-vocational allowance, the SSA considers not only the severity of your medical impairments but also various vocational factors, including your work history, education, and age. A medical professional from the SSA will assign you a mental Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) based on an exam or a review of your medical records. Your RFC will include whether you are able to concentrate, get along with others, and communicate sufficiently to work. If the SSA determines, based on all the evidence in your case and your RFC, that you can't do any of your past work (within the last 15 years) or any other jobs in the U.S., you will be found disabled under a medical-vocational allowance.

PDD-NOS vs. Pervasive Developmental Disorder

PDD-NOS should not be confused with the term "pervasive developmental disorder." This is an umbrella term that includes five diagnoses: autistic disorder, Asperger's syndrome, PDD-NOS, Rett syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder. For more information on obtaining disability benefits for other autism spectrum disorders, read our specific articles on autism and Asperger's syndrome.

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