The Politics of Autism explains that autism services can be complicated, creating difficulties for autistic people and their families.
A core goal of US social policy is to promote equal opportunity for children to become self-sufficient adults. For children with disabilities, this goal is supported by targeted legislation. The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA), passed in 1990, ensures access to a free and appropriate public education. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, ensures access to the built environment and to the labor market in adulthood.
Despite these supports, many children with disabilities fail to enter the labor market as adults. This shortfall is particularly apparent among low-income children receiving benefits from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI)-disabled children program. A majority of SSI-disabled children move directly onto the adult SSI program at age 18, and those who do not, work and earn less than their counterparts without disabilities.1 These data raise the possibility that more should be done to assist children with disabilities living in low-income families and eligible for SSI.
In this chapter, we review the history of the SSI-disabled children program and argue that the program's goals, laid out nearly a half century ago, have fallen behind the modern view of people with disabilities embedded in IDEA and the ADA. We conclude that a fundamental change in the way we think about providing financial support for low-income children and youth with disabilities is warranted.
This new mindset would focus on investing in their human capital and giving them the best chance to be work-ready as adults. These changes will bring the SSI-disabled children program more in line with the tenets of self-sufficiency in IDEA and the ADA. We suggest that this is especially important given the rapid growth of the SSI-disabled children program since 1989.