Is Autism A Disability?

Today, you will learn whether autism is considered a disability.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

What is Autism?

Autism is a spectrum of neurological conditions that impact the way people with it behave and communicate. People with this condition many times look no different than other people. However, they often struggle with basic tasks, such as planning, organizing, communicating and learning.

Autism is a spectrum of neurological conditions that impact the way people with it behave and communicate.

Even more, autism cannot be detected through routine medical exams that involve x-rays, blood tests or physical examinations. Rather, professional autism evaluators use interviews and observations of people's behaviors and symptoms to determine whether or not they are autistic.

Autism is referred to as a spectrum condition because it impacts people differently.

The way one person with autism behaves may vary entirely from the way another person with this condition behaves.

Further, there is no one specific treatment for autism. People with this condition may respond well to various types of therapies to help them manage or overcome certain behaviors. These therapies can include:

  • Speech
  • Occupational
  • Physical
  • Mental health

Even more, people with autism may need varying levels of support throughout their lives. For example, they may need more support services and therapy while they are children than when they are adults. They also may need more therapy or treatment during high levels of stress.

What is the Difference between a Disorder and a Disability?

A disorder is defined as a condition that impacts a person's ability to function normally. It can impede or halt functioning entirely. It may alternatively slow down normal functioning to a point that the person with it may need therapeutic support to cope with or overcome it.

Disorders are often used to describe psychological conditions, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Likewise, people with disorders may need to experience symptoms of their conditions for several weeks or longer before obtaining an official diagnosis for them. Disorders that are left untreated or are especially severe can contribute to or cause disabilities.

A disability is defined as a physical or mental condition that limits in what manner a person moves, engages in activities or utilizes his or her senses.

It can contribute to or cause the person to lose partial or total loss of body functions or mental capacities. It may also denote the person has a physical defect or injury that impacts his or her ability to function physically and psychologically.

Disabilities can stem from illnesses, congenital conditions or injuries. Others may be relatively temporary and overcome or lessened with medical treatment. Others are chronic or permanent and cannot be remedied with medical or psychological treatment.

Is Autism a Developmental Disability?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism is a disability. More specifically, it is categorized in part as a developmental disability because it impacts a person's neurological development.

People with autism often struggle with behaviors and tasks that are required for functioning normally in everyday society.

They may have difficulties with:

  • Making eye contact
  • Engaging in and initiating conversations
  • Planning, organizing and executing routines
  • Making transitions or changes to their daily schedules
  • Picking up on verbal and social clues

Depending on the severity of their autism, people with this condition may need significant accommodations when out in public. They may also need caretakers or parents to be with them continuously to ensure they do not react violently or rashly to triggers like loud noises, people touching them or new surroundings.

With that, people with autism may need support services throughout their lives to help them overcome or adjust to developmental challenges. They often meet the criteria outlined for being diagnosed as someone with a developmental disability.

Is Autism a Learning Disability?

Additionally, autism is categorized as a learning disability. This categorization stems from the fact that many autistic individuals lack the behavioral capabilities to learn in a traditional manner.

For example, someone with autism who has difficulties making eye contact or sitting still for long periods of time may not learn well in a traditional classroom. This person needs special accommodations to help him or her in school

Likewise, people with autism who have difficulties with organizing or executing plans may not be able to finish and turn in homework on time. They also may have difficulties with filling out worksheets or taking tests in a classroom setting. They lack the ability to learn and progress in school as other students.

These challenges can likewise make it difficult for people with autism to function beyond the classroom. They may not be able to learn the skills needed in the workplace.

Depending on the severity of their autism, people with this condition may be unable to work and earn an income to support themselves sufficiently. With that, autism is defined as a learning disability and may qualify people with it for benefits like Social Security Disability Income or SSDI.

Is Autism Considered a Medical Disability?

Because autism is a neurological disorder, it is categorized as a medical disability. The medical aspect of this conditions stems from the fact that it impacts the brain and its ability to function normally.

Additionally, the neurological impact of autism often significantly impairs a person's capabilities of integrating and functioning normally in everyday society. This person may struggle with:

  • Controlling his or her emotions
  • Tolerating being in a large crowd or around a lot of people
  • Tolerating changes to a daily routine
  • Remembering a bus schedule or what bus to take to and from work

These challenges can impede a person's ability to work independently and earn an income.

With that, autism meets the definition of being a medical disability.

Depending on the severity of a person's autism, he or she may qualify for government-subsidized health benefits like Medicaid.

If he or she cannot earn an income directly because of his or her autism, this person may also qualify for SSDI.

Is Autism Legally a Disability?

People with autism are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as autism meets the definition of being a legal disability. They are legally entitled to accommodations at work or in school.

The accommodations people with autism may be able to gain access to as a result can include:

  • Sensory equipment like headphones to cancel out or lessen loud noises at work
  • Smaller classroom sizes to help people with autism function better at school
  • Flexible work locations, like remote or at-home jobs
  • Individualized learning or individual lesson plans, or IEPs, at school
  • Modified classroom or work schedules
People with autism symptoms that severely impact their ability to take care of themselves or live safely on their own may also qualify legally for caretaker services.

They are legally entitled to have a caretaker with them when they are at home, go to school or go out in public.

People who receive diagnoses of autism may also be eligible for additional benefits like Medicaid, Social Security disability income and reduced or free passes for public transportation.

What Treatment is Available for People with Autism?

People with autism may have a variety of treatments available to them. Treatments can vary from person to person. They can also change as people with autism grow and progress through life. No single treatment exists to address the entire spectrum of autistic behaviors and symptoms.

Some of the more common treatments for autism include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT
  • Individual education plans or IEPs
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Behavioral management therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Mental health therapy

Treatments are generally tailored to each individual with autism and address specific challenges he or she experiences that are related to this condition. Additional treatment can include the use of medications to relieve or eliminate autism-related health conditions, such as anxiety or GI disorders.

Can Someone Receive Disability Benefits for Autism?

Yes, someone with autism may receive disability benefits. This condition is classified as a legal, medical and learning disability. It is generally recognized as one that impedes a person's ability to function effectively, if not independently, in everyday life and can prevent a person with it from working and earning a livable income.

With that, autism can qualify people with it for disability benefits. These benefits can take the place of or supplement any income the person is capable of earning on his or her own. They can also qualify this person for additional benefits, such as Medicaid or other government-subsidized healthcare programs.

Parents and caretakers of children with autism likewise may qualify for disability benefits that can help financially support their children. These benefits can help cover medical, housing and educational costs associated with caring for children with autism. They can also supplement or replace parents' incomes that may otherwise be restricted from caring for a child with autism.



steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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