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A Guide to Government Benefits for Families With Special Needs

Families who have children or family members with special needs face financial challenges that can be overwhelming.

For example, the advocacy organization Autism Speaks estimates the lifetime cost of caring for a person with autism at $1.4 million. That cost can almost double if the person is impacted by an intellectual disability (having an IQ under 70). 

Most families don’t have the income or personal savings to meet these challenges. That’s why it’s essential to take advantage of all the government benefits that are available to assist families caring for a loved one with special needs. 

If you are caring for a family member with special needs, make sure your financial planning includes these government programs. 

Supplemental Security Income Benefits 


Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federally funded program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

Blind or disabled children and adults are eligible for SSI benefits, as are adults 65 and older who meet the program’s financial criteria. 

The SSI definition of “disabled” is different for children and adults. 

For children: 

  • The child must have a physical or mental condition(s) that very seriously limits his or her activities, and 
  • The condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year or result in death.

For adults: 

  • The adult has physical or mental condition(s) that results in the inability to do any substantial gainful activity and can be expected to result in death, or 
  • The condition has lasted, or can be expected to last, for a continuous period of 12 months or more. 

Visit the SSI homepage for information on the program and on how to apply. Also, know that the Social Security Administration will: 


  • Help you complete your application. 
  • Make an appointment and pay for a medical exam if the information you currently have isn’t sufficient. 
  • In some cases, pay for your travel to the exam. 

Social Security Disability Insurance 


Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is an earned benefit funded by the Social Security tax fund and targeted to people whose physical or mental impairments prevent them from engaging in their normal occupation or other work. That means, even if an individual meets the SSI definition of disabled, that person must have sufficient Social Security work experience to qualify for payments. 

The program includes the Disabled Adult Child (DAC) provision, under which an adult disabled before age 22 may be eligible for child benefits if a parent is deceased or starts receiving retirement or disability benefits. This is called a “child’s benefit” because it is based on the parent’s Social Security earnings. 

The SSA website provides this example of a DAC benefit: 

A worker starts collecting Social Security retirement benefits at age 62. He has a 38-year-old son who has had cerebral palsy since birth. The son will start collecting a disabled "child's" benefit on his father's Social Security record. 

In this case, the adult child is eligible even though he has not worked or contributed to Social Security. Adult children who work can still receive benefits as long as their earnings remain below a level the SSA considers “substantial,” which in 2020 was set at anything over $1,260 a month. 

Check out the SSA guidelines to learn more about SSDI benefits, eligibility, and application process. 

Get professional support 


The SSI and SSDI benefits are just some of what’s available from the government to assist families with special needs. Medicare and Medicaid include provisions that can provide additional financial assistance. 

Even though the SSA website is easy to navigate, these benefits can be complex and challenging to understand. One of the best ways to ensure your loved one receives all their eligible benefits is to work with an advisor who has professional credentials and experience working in special needs planning. 


This content and information was created by a third party and not The College. The College assumes no legal liability for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any such content and information and the views expressed therein do not necessarily represent the views of The College.

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