Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is split into two parts, or ‘components’ - mobility and care - but you apply for both on the same form. Here we give detailed information about the DLA mobility criteria for children under the age of 16. You may find it useful if you are trying to work out if your child should qualify for either low or high mobility or if you are appealing a decision about DLA mobility.  

For general information about DLA please see our information on DLA for children.

We also have detailed information about the care component of DLA for children. 

DLA Mobility can be paid at two different rates. The low rate can be paid from age five or the high rate can be paid from age three.


Low rate mobility

It is quite common for children with autism to qualify for low rate mobility because the criteria relates to the sort of extra help that a lot of children with autism need.

The lower rate can be paid for children who have no physical problem with walking, but who need "guidance or supervision” to enable them to walk. This guidance or supervision must be ‘substantially in excess’ of the guidance and supervision needed by non disabled children of the same age.

For children on the autism spectrum relevant factors may be lack or road safely, sensory issues, anxiety, getting lost, running off, lack of understanding of stranger danger, needing someone to monitor the route ahead for potential dangers, encouragement to continue a journey or help returning home if becoming distressed. 

If your child needs a lot of extra supervision to keep them safe when outdoors then they are likely to qualify for the lower rate.

It is important to explain the additional help that the child needs to enable them to safely and successfully make a journey on foot.

The low mobility only looks at walking, it does not take into account the help needed with other forms of transport such as catching a bus.


High rate mobility

High rate mobility is much more difficult to qualify for and most children with autism do not get high rate mobility.

When you are awarded high rate mobility it means that you can automatically qualify for a Blue Badge from your local authority for parking, and can access the Motability Scheme which enables you to exchange the DLA high rate mobility money for a hire or hire purchase vehicle. 

The high rate mobility criteria is set out in social security law and is very specific. The Department for Work and Pensions and the appeal tribunals can only award the benefit if the child fits the criteria. They have no power to issue discretionary awards. Therefore it is important to identify how the criteria applies to your child.

There are seven possible ways to qualify for high rate mobility. The first five in the following list only relate to physical disability or visual impairment so these are only described briefly.

  1. Due to a physical disability the child is unable to walk. This relates to children who cannot walk even a few steps due to a physical disability. 
  2. The child is both deaf and blind. This relates to children who have 100% degree of disablement resulting from loss of vision and 80% degree of disablement resulting from loss of hearing, and who cannot walk outdoors without another person.
  3. The child has no legs or feet (from birth or through amputation).
  4. The child is blind or severely visually impaired. The child must have been certified blind or severely sight impaired and must meet certain additional criteria relating to their degree of visual impairment.
  5. The exertion required to walk would lead to a danger to life or serious deterioration in the child’s health. The danger to health has to be caused by the physical exertion, so could for example apply to a child with a very serious heart condition. This criteria does not apply to children whose behaviour causes danger.
  6. The child meets the ‘severe mental impairment’ criteria.
  7. Due to a physical disability the child is ‘virtually unable to walk’.


These final two criteria; the 'severe mental impairment' criteria and the 'virtually unable to walk' criteria do sometimes apply to children with autism.


The ‘Severe Mental Impairment’ criteria 

To get high rate mobility under the severe mental impairment rules you have to meet every one of the following points.


1. The child gets DLA high rate care. This means that if your child qualifies for none of the care component of DLA, or low or middle rate care, the ‘severe mental impairment’ criteria cannot be considered.


2. The child has a state of arrested development or incomplete physical development of the brain which results in severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning. We can split this rule into three parts to make it easier to consider:

(a) The child must have arrested or incomplete physical development of the brain. Where the child has a diagnosis of autism it should be accepted that they have arrested or incomplete physical development of the brain. If you are still going through the diagnostic process you might struggle to show that this point applies, however there are other diagnoses such as global development delay that could also be accepted as being arrested or incomplete development of the brain.

(b)The arrested development results in severe impairment of intelligence. This part of the criteria is the main reason that only a minority of children with autism qualify for high rate mobility, because many children with autism have average or near average intelligence and so do not meet this point. The impairment must be ‘severe’ and it must be the intelligence that is impaired. What sort of things are considered depends on the child’s age, but issues to consider are:

  • Does the child have a Learning Disability?
  • What sort of specialist educational provision does the child have?
  • Has the child been significantly delayed in meeting developmental milestones such as developing speech, feeding themselves, toileting etc?
  • Does the child understand danger (in a way appropriate to their age)?
  • What difficulty do they have applying the intelligence that they do have to the real world? 


(c) The arrested development results in severe impairment of social functioning. This part of the criteria is usually straightforward to meet because it so obviously applies to autism. The child’s ability and interest in playing with other children is relevant to this.


3. The Severe Behavioural Problems Rule

(a) The child has disruptive behaviour which is extreme. For this part give examples about the extreme and disruptive behaviour. All behaviour is relevant, not just how the child is when outdoors. 

(b) Due to the disruptive behaviour the child regularly requires another person to intervene and physically restrain the child in order to prevent the child causing physical injury to himself or others or damaging property.

For this part give examples of when and how you have to restrain the child. Again it is not just things that happen outdoors that count. Give examples from at home and school as well. Physical restraint means physically stopping the child from doing something, so holding a child’s hand to physically hold them back them from doing something that would cause injury could count, but holding a child’s hand to keep them calm would probably not count.  

(c) The disruptive behaviour is so unpredictable that the child requires another person to be present and watching over them whenever they are awake. Explain why someone needs to be with the child all of the time, and explain what dangerous thing could happen if they were left in a room on their own.


Virtually Unable to Walk

This criteria is for children who have a physical disability which makes their ability to walk very limited. If behavioural issues are caused by something with a physical origin then these behavioural problems can be taken into account. It has been shown that autism is a disorder of brain development and so has a physical cause. If behaviour caused by autism means that a child’s practical, physical ability walk is so limited that they can be said to be ‘virtually unable to walk’ then they can qualify for high rate mobility under this rule.

Issues of safety, and the need for supervision and guidance, are not relevant to this part of the criteria. This criteria is not dependent on the child also being awarded high rate care.
Interruptions in walking, or refusing to walk, can be taken into account if it happens frequently enough to mean that on most days the child is very physically limited in how far they can walk. Although there is no set distance in the law below which you are considered ‘virtually unable to walk’, generally if the child is limited to less than approximately 50 metres they may qualify.

If you feel that the ‘virtually unable to walk’ criteria applies to your child then it is important to provide a high degree of very practical detail about their physical walking ability. It is not essential to answer the following questions, but we hope that they will help you to think about the sort of detail that would show whether a child qualified under this criteria:

Describe what happens when your child tries to walk.

  • How many paces do they normally manage?
  • How many seconds do they normally manage to walk for?
  • Do they walk in the right direction?
  • When they stop do they sit down or lie down?
  • What happens when they stop? Do you have to carry them? If they are too big to carry how long do you have to wait before they will get up again?
  • Are there any sensory issues that you think make them stop walking?
  • Do you usually have to carry the child or put them in a buggy or major buggy? How often does this happen?
  • How do they travel to school? If they go by car how far is it from your front door to where the car is? How far is it from where the car stops to the doors of the school? How to they get from the front door to the car? If they usually try to walk from the front door to the car how long does it take?


The reason that it is important to provide this level of detail is to show that the child is physically very limited in how far they can walk.