Social Security Disability Benefits for Children with Disabilities

Social Security’s process for evaluating children with disabilities is a little different than its process for evaluating adults. However, building a successful case for either an adult or a child requires the same elements: a solid history of consistent medical treatment, strong evidence of difficulties in daily functioning, and lots of patience.
Raising a disabled child can be expensive. Between medical treatment, prescriptions, and specialized education, footing all the bills can be difficult. You may be having difficulty holding a job because caring for your child causes you to miss a lot of work. If you have a disabled child and are struggling to pay bills, you may want to look into applying for disability for your child.
Disabled children typically qualify for benefits under SSI (Supplemental Security Income). SSI is a needs-based program; Social Security will ask you about your household income and resources to determine whether you meet their financial guidelines.
Once Social Security determines that a child’s household meets its financial criteria, it considers whether the child’s impairments meet Social Security’s definition of disability. A child may be found disabled due to physical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, or heart defects), mental conditions (such as ADHD, autism, Tourette’s syndrome, or depression), or a combination of physical and mental impairments.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) will first look to see if you child’s disability meets a listing in its Listing of Impairments – Children. If your child does not meet the specific criteria of a listing, Social Security will then evaluate whether he or she “functionally equals the Listings.” To do so, the SSA looks at your child’s ability to function in six different domains. “Domains” are broad areas of functioning used to evaluate whether your child can function at an age-appropriate level in all aspects of his or her life. The six domains are as follows:

  • Acquiring and using information
  • Attending and completing tasks
  • Interacting and relating with others
  • Moving about and manipulating objects
  • Caring for yourself
  • Health and physical well-being

To functionally equal the Listings, the SSA requires your child to have “marked” impairments in two of these domains or “extreme” impairments in one domain. Marked is defined by the SSA as “more than moderate.” If an SSA Administrative Law Judge finds that your child has a marked (more than moderate) limitation in two of the above categories or an extreme limitation in one of them, your child may be be awarded disability benefits. For a more detailed description of “marked” and “extreme” visit this SSA page.
The application process can take from months to over a year to complete. It is important that you do not get discouraged, and be patient with the claims process. To give your child the best chance at winning his or her claim, you need to make sure Social Security has complete records showing a history of consistent medical treatment. These records include test results, diagnoses, and even statements from professional adults who interact with your child on a regular basis, including teachers, doctors, and therapists.

It is important to remember that most applicants are initially denied, but in my experience your chances of obtaining a favorable decision improve greatly at the hearing level. Therefore, it is definitely worth it to be persistent with your child’s claim, and to make sure you meet all filing deadlines and provide Social Security with all the information they request. If you have questions about the claims process for child applicants, it is best to contact an attorney or representative in the field.

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