Navigating Adult Services

Advocacy Tool Kit

This section of the Autism Speaks Advocacy Tool Kit was prepared by Autism Speaks Board Member Val Paradiz, PhD.

Adults with autism are often eligible for services to support them in various aspects of their lives. Services vary from state to state, but most involve a team component comprised of the individual, family members, friends, and coordinators from an agency or organization providing the service (if the individual has qualified for services through agencies).

Although the information provided on services below is not exhaustive by any means, it provides some basic information to help you and the person you support begin to navigate programs and options.

Applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI is a Federal Social Security cash benefit that is available to disabled individuals who demonstrate financial need. If a child is under 18, a family’s income is used to determine eligibility. After the age of 18, financial need is based on the individual’s ability to earn income. Receiving SSI does not prohibit a person from working. SSI operates on a sliding scale. The amount of cash received monthly is adjusted according to the individual’s current income.

Applying for SSI can take several months and involves providing detailed medical or other documentation, as well as undergoing evaluation(s) by qualified SSI medical professionals. Therefore, it is good to plan ahead and initiate the process as part of a young adult’s transition plan. If the individual is school aged and already has SSI, he/she must reapply as an adult, at age 18. It is never too late to apply for SSI. The process can be initiated by a family member, support person, or by the individual directly at any time. For more information on SSI, visit or call or visit your local Social Security Administration office.

Accessing the Voting Process

An important step you can take to foster citizenship is supporting an individual with autism to access the voting process. It is critical to provide the necessary accommodations needed for the individual to understand the voting process and its purpose, learn about candidates in local, state and national level elections, register to vote, and vote either at polling places or remotely via US Mail.

For information on how to provide this support, or to access it directly if you are a person with autism, visit the Arc of the United States’ We’ve Got the Power Campaign here. Another good resource for voting rights for people with disabilities is: National Disabilities Rights Network.

Receiving Services from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR)

Vocational Rehabilitation provides support to assist individuals with disabilities in preparing for finding and maintaining a job to match skills and abilities. Eligibility is based upon a person’s disability and whether the disability currently presents obstacles to employment that can be remediated through vocational rehabilitation services.

In order to qualify, DVR reviews medical and educational history, as well as employment experience, to ascertain how the disability affects an individual’s ability to be employed. This is a significant arena where community and personal advocacy play an important role. To learn more about applying for Vocational Rehabilitation Services, visit your local DVR office or your state DVR web site.

Accessing Social, Therapeutic and Medical Resources, Supports and Services through the Developmental Disability (DD) Waiver

The DD Waiver provides funding for home and community-based services for adults with developmental disabilities, including autism. Eligibility is determined through a screening process conducted by the local county social service agency.

When an individual qualifies, services are identified in detail in the Individual Service Plan (ISP) or an equivalent document. Generally, a caseworker is also assigned to support the individual’s various needs and goals. Services can be provided wherever the adult with autism lives (his/her own private home, in the home of the individual’s parents or other family members, or in other group and residential home settings).

In addition to services covered by medical assistance, the following additional supports might become a part of an individual’s service plan: adult day care, assistive technology, support provider training and education, case management, consumer-directed community supports, consumer training and education, day training and habilitation services, housing access coordination, supported employment services, supported living services, transitional services, transportation services, and more.

Read more on Navigating Adult Services in the Autism Speaks Advocacy Tool Kit.