Today, I finally had my SSDI hearing. I was told by my lawyer it will take about 3 months before I receive the ruling from the judge. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have waited nearly 2 years to have this hearing, having filed the appeal in December of 2007. My hearing was originally scheduled on May 19, but my lawyer was not notified a vocational expert would be testifying on behalf of the government and did not have the correct files to cross-examine her with, so my hearing was postponed until today, September 8.
It was rather predictable with the judge asking me questions about the various positions I was fired from. Of course he did not want to hear about all the jobs I had been fired from previous to 1994, so I was only allowed to testify as to the 3 jobs that I was fired from since 1994 (excluding the job I was partially fired from and was forced to resign from because things were so bad there). Naturally he wanted to know why I was able to work at a couple of jobs for a fairly substantial long time since 1994 why I could not go out and try again. I told him the truth, that with my disability, I would always be limited in the job market and would risk being fired or having problems on the job and I was sick of struggling and believed I was entitled to SSDI. He asked me about my self-stimulatory behaviors. I explained them to him. He commented on the fact that I was not doing them at that moment. I told him that I had some control over it to a limited extent, but did not do it all the time. I think the judge was rather cynical and felt I appeared "normal" to him.
There was a vocational expert there who testified in favor of the government as well as a medical expert who was a licensed psychologist who testified over the telephone and was heard through a phone speaker.
The vocational expert basically stated that even though I could no longer do medical transcription that she believed I could do some more menial job such as janitorial work or doing packaging or being a washing machine loader in a dry cleaners. Of course these vocational experts don’t take into account that at any job like that which I would apply to I would have to explain why I left medical transcription and would have to think up some sort of excuse or tell them the truth about my disability which would automatically forfeit my chances of getting that job. It is also quite likely I would have impairments in these jobs as well. Even if I didn’t, once my self-stimulatory behaviors, loud voice and other problems came out in the wash, they would find some excuse for firing me.
My lawyer asked me questions about how I got along with supervisors in the workplace and if I was sensitive to criticism when the errors I made in my work were criticized. I spoke of the one incident where my assistant supervisor at one job while reprimanding me about a mistake told me that this is why I had such a bad reputation with certain doctors and I got angry and got into an argument with her.
The medical expert (who never met me or saw me in person) testified about my autism and how it would affect my sociability and dysthymia and depression that I was stated to have. Her opinion was entered into the record.
One interesting part of my lawyer’s arguments were my scores on the block design subtest on the Wechsler IQ test. This is a test where a diagram of some colored blocks is shown to a testing subject and they are asked to duplicate the diagram. Because of my perceptual motor impairments due to my brain damage, I do very poorly on this test. It was argued that this could be a contributing factor to my impairments in making a living. The psychologist countered that it would probably impair my ability in drafting or architectural type of professions, but not in typing or as a medical transcriptionist. This is an accurate statement on the part of the psychologist. Though I made an excessive amount of errors in various transcribing jobs that I had, it was due to lack of concentration and autistic "zone-outs" rather than my perceptual motor impairments.
I am atypical from apparently some other autistics in this regard. There are apparently some research studies that have shown that autistics do well in the block design test. Of course these are just some studies that were limited to using certain research subjects and cannot be applied to all autistics.
I am happy that it is finally over after waiting for so long. Of course because the hearing is over does not mean the case is over. Because I was able to work at some jobs at a barely acceptable level and my condition basically has stayed the same and has not deteriorated since 1994, I certainly don’t have an absolutely solid case for being able to get social security disability benefits. There are, however, certain precedents in the law where in certain cases there were favorable rulings for claimants in various court cases due to being fired chronically from jobs, so I do have a legal basis for claiming benefits and/or early retirement.
From what I have read, about two-thirds of the people who apply for SSDI are turned down as I was. I still remember two years ago when I first applied for it being struck by the irony that the headquarters for the Lovaas Institute for early intervention was located just down the hall on the same floor of the building that houses the social security office near where I live. I have written about this previously Trying to get social security benefits after having been turned down is an arduous undertaking often taking years.
It is quite possible that the reason I was turned down and am having difficulty is because I did work in the past. Basically it is not out of the question that I am being punished from having tried to spare the government the burden of supporting me (aside from the fact I have put thousands of dollars into social security already). I sometimes wonder if I had just applied for this in my 20s before I first attempted to work would I have been saving myself a lot of aggravation. In fact, I think parents of autistic children apply for benefits for their children. Hypothetically maybe this could have been done for me. The problem of course was that I grew up in the Bettelheim generation/era and there was not the same understanding. This was in addition to being very high functioning so my parents would not have known the poor prognosis for my outcome.
Do I regret that I tried my best to fight this thing for nearly 28 years? No, absolutely not. I am glad that I had the courage to try hard to work in spite of all of the adversity, the constant firings and the insults I took at times from supervisors and co-workers. Not to mention the tons of interviews where I had to come up with good explanations for my unstable work record, why I got a bachelors in psychology and never did anything with it, the problems of having to fill out job applications with a severe handwriting impairment, the crap I had to put up with from the california state dept of rehabilitation, etc. I was not a complete failure and I was somewhat self supporting from ages 24 to 51. But we all have our breaking point and I have reached mine. I really wish that I could work. I am truly one of the last people in the world who would apply for either SSI or SSDI unless there was a very good reason. But sometimes you just have to call it quits. Of course there is a good chance I will never receive a dime of this money at least until I am eligible for minimum retirement benefits at age 62. If you lose at this level, then there is a written appeal, then after that district court, if you lose there it can be appealed to the federal government circuit court of appeals. One or two of these cases a year are even heard in the supreme court. It is improbable my case will get as far as the supreme court. This means that my fight against the government will likely drag on for many years. So it goes.