By Kristy Anderson

Originally posted on January 10, 2017

Achieving economic security and independence is an everyday challenge for many people on the autism spectrum who often have high rates of unemployment, earn low wages, and have high medical costs. For many adults on the autism spectrum, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, a federally administered income maintenance program, is a vital lifeline that protects against poverty. In 2014, roughly 246,415 children and adults on the autism spectrum received SSI benefits. To put this number in context – in that same year, special education services covered 575,796 children and adolescents on the autism spectrum and Vocational Rehabilitation closed 17,753 cases. Despite its pivotal importance, virtually nothing is known about adults with autism who use SSI benefits.

Individuals that qualify for SSI represent the most financially disadvantaged population of adults on the autism spectrum. Without SSI benefits, people may not be able to afford life necessities like food, shelter and medications. Given the national role of SSI in providing financial support to a large population of people with autism, we were shocked to find so little research about the program.

The Organization for Autism Research funded our study, “Usage Trends and Characteristics of SSI Beneficiaries on the Autism Spectrum,” to advance our understanding of how adults on the autism spectrum interact with the SSI program. Partnering with the Social Security Administration (SSA), the research study will use SSA administrative data to assess the prevalence, trend, and composition of SSI beneficiaries with autism. Our hope for this study is to discover and raise awareness about the SSI experiences of people on the autism spectrum. Advocacy organizations can use findings from our research to inform policymakers about the unmet needs of this population, which in turn could lead to program improvements.

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