Category Archives: SSDI

Ask the Expert- Why is Autism So Common Now?

Written by Evan Farr

Q. My ten year old son, Cole, was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was six. He is in a class of 20 children and there are two other boys and a girl who also have an ASD, all ranging in severity. These children spend half the time in the typical class and half the time in special education. When I was growing up, the only person I knew with autism was my friend’s brother, who didn’t talk and was very anxious about being around others. Why is ASD so common now, as opposed to 30 years ago, and what can I and other parents do to plan for our special needs children?

A. Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. ASD affects each person in different ways, thus their impairment can range from mild to severe, but all those afflicted with autism share problems with social interaction.

What we know now is that there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type. Different genes increase the probability of a child developing autism. We know that children who have a sibling or parent with autism are at a much higher risk of also having the condition or another developmental disorder. Genes may be affected by advanced parental age at time of conception.

But why is autism’s prevalence increasing? Thirty years ago, the rate of autism was typically quoted as 4 in 10,000. The most recent rate reported is 1 in 50. This is an alarming increase from one in every 88 children reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just four years ago.  Factors that have brought the startling levels of autism to our attention include:

  • Better Understanding: Thirty years ago, autism was first introduced as a separate diagnostic category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III (DSM-3). Prior to that time, clinicians using the DSM applied other categories such as childhood schizophrenia.
  • More Awareness: Since the early ‘80’s, there has been extraordinary growth in awareness – both for professionals and parents. Pediatricians now screen for early warning signs, as do parents. These actions have all led to a much greater awareness of the symptoms of autism which has translated to more diagnoses being made. In addition, the increased awareness has permitted older kids to be diagnosed when the signs earlier in life were not recognized as autism.
  • Expansion of the Symptoms: Diagnostic changes that recognized autism as a spectrum, now referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), have helped capture the wide range of symptoms that go beyond “classic” autism. These symptoms can include social, communicative, and repetitive/stereotyped behaviors. Since autism became a spectrum disorder, many youth were diagnosed who would not have been in past years.
  • Changes in Etiological Factors: Less understood is the role of new causative factors that increase the risk for ASD. Much attention is being given to environmental factors and there is the suggestion that specific genetic mutations may be linked to autism.

Autism has come a long way in the past 30 years. We know now that autism is very common and that it may be influenced by genetic and environmental risk factors that are not well understood at this time. For these reasons, it is important for doctors, scientists, and awareness groups to keep researching the causes of autism, and to continue to promote awareness of the early signs and symptoms in order to support early diagnosis and intervention.

How can you plan for your son? More than $13 billion a year is spent to care for individuals with autism.  For the average affected family, this translates to $30K per year.  Many parents believe that needs-based programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid will be enough to take care of their family members with special needs when they are gone.  This is a common misconception.

SSI is the federal needs based program that many special needs children and adults may be eligible for if they meet certain income limits. Many special needs children and adults may also get Medicaid to pay for hospital stays, doctor bills, prescription drugs, and other health costs.  However, once a person with special needs exceeds the $2,000 a year resource limit, he or she is no longer eligible for SSI or Medicaid.

Twenty million American families have at least one member with special needs, such as ASD, cerebral palsy, mental illness, blindness, and others.  Parents of those with special needs are tasked with planning for their children throughout their lifetime, as many of them will outlive their parents but might not be able to support themselves and live independently.

We here at The Fairfax Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., know that the majority of American families who have a loved one with special needs require a Special Needs Trust.  These families typically have very little in tangible assets, second mortgages on their homes, and little to no savings (likely due to paying for the costly therapies). As a parent or guardian, you want to ensure that your child with special needs will remain financially secure even when you are no longer there to provide support.  A Special Needs Trust is a vehicle that provides assets from which a disabled person can maintain his or her quality of life, while still remaining eligible for needs-based programs that will cover basic health and living expenses.

In your situation, you can create a Special Needs Trust to benefit Cole that provides instructions as to the level of care you want for him. After you are gone, the people you have chosen to manage the trust (trustees) can spend money on certain defined expenses for Cole’s benefit without compromising his eligibility for needs based programs.

We invite you to call 703-691-1888 to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation with The Fairfax Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr P.C. to learn more about special needs planning.

Latest Numbers: Muscular Dystrophy Funds Raised

Written by Evan Farr

As you may know, the Farr Law Firm is participating in the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Muscle Walk, taking place at George Mason University on April 2 2011.

We are making progress! But we have a long way to go.  You can track our progress by viewing our MDA page here, or alternatively, you can check back here (our blog) and we will periodically update our barometer.

Please Help Us Support The Muscular Dystrophy Association

Written by Evan Farr

UPDATE: The Farr Law Firm would like to extend a special thanks on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association to our first two donors!

Thank You Ana A. and Mark R!

We still have a long way to go, as you can see from our Barometer

Please consider making a small donation by visiting our Firm’s MDA Fundraiser page.

The Farr Law Firm is participating in the MDA Fundraiser Walk on Saturday, April 2. We need your help!

Muscular Dystrophy is a group of genetic disorders that weakens muscles, makes it difficult to perform routine tasks like climbing stairs or playing with friends, and seriously limits what many children can do to enjoy life.  The Greater Washington Muscular Dystrophy Association funds research, cares for patients, and even sponsors summer camps for children with the disease. 

The Farr Law Firm supports organizations such as the MDA; our Firm takes great pride in helping families with Special Needs Children.  For more information, please visit our site for Special Needs Planning, located here.

In addition to the children who suffer from Muscular Dystrophy and need our support, an increasing number of adults under the age of 65 are entering nursing home facilities as a result of neuromuscular diseases.  Our recent article, posted on our National Blog, highlighted the fact that the number of young adults in nursing home facilities has increased 22% in just the last 8 years.

If you would like more information on how, when, and why to plan for the future in light of difficult life circumstances, please feel free to call us at 1-800-399-FARR and our team will be happy to assist you.  If you would like to review our four levels of Family Protection Planning, we have made this information available for easy access on our website, located here.

Please click here to make a small donation!

PS: We will post all donors’ first name and last initial in a later posting to say thanks!

New Medical Conditions — Including Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease — Now Qualify for Automatic Disability Benefits

Written by Evan Farr

Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits are paid to individuals who, after having worked for many years, develop a disabling condition, prior to their normal retirement age, that is so severe that they are no longer able to work. Applicants for Social Security disability benefits often have to wait months, and sometimes years, for approval from the government, even if they are clearly eligible for benefits. However, in certain circumstances the Social Security Administration (SSA) will fast-track a disability benefits application through a process known as Compassionate Allowances, usually because the applicant is suffering from a severe disability that may be life-threatening.  If an applicant is suffering from any of the conditions on the Compassionate Allowances list, his application is fast-tracked because it is presumed that he is a person with disabilities. This speeds up the application process and assists people suffering from serious conditions by awarding benefits quickly, when they are most needed.

When a person with disabilities submits an application for benefits, the SSA normally passes the application through a rigorous five-step process to ensure that the applicant truly needs assistance. The SSA first checks to see if the applicant is working, and then assesses whether the applicant is suffering from a “severe” medical condition. In the third step of the process, the SSA compares the beneficiary’s condition to a list of impairments that normally qualify a person for benefits without further assessment. When a person’s condition matches a condition on the list of impairments, the SSA presumes that the applicant has a disability and typically awards benefits without proceeding through the final two steps.

Unfortunately, most applicants typically have to wait for a long time before arriving at this third step in the evaluation process. Compassionate Allowances speed this process up by defining certain specific conditions that “obviously meet disability standards.” Prior to this month, the SSA included 50 medical conditions on the list of conditions that qualified for a Compassionate Allowance.  As of March 1, 2010, the SSA has now added an additional 38 conditions to the Compassionate Allowances list, greatly expanding the number of people who are eligible for the Compassionate Allowances program.

Although most of the conditions on the revised list are rare, of tremendous importance for the aging population is the fact that the SSA has now included Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Mixed Dementia, and Primary Progressive Aphasia among the new fast-track conditions, meaning that people who are diagnosed with any of these conditions can now receive disability benefits very quickly. In addition to a monthly disability payment, qualification for SSDI also allows earlier entry to Medicare health insurance benefits for those under age 65.  And for those under age 65 whose conditions are so severe that they must be placed in a nursing home, a disability determination from SSA also speeds up the Medicaid application process.

Please follow the links below to learn more about the Compassionate Allowance program:

Initial List of Compassionate Allowance Conditions

38 New Compassionate Allowance Conditions

Additional information about how compassionate allowances are processed

Statements from Family Members and Individuals with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease