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Children With Disabilities: Social Security Benefits

How Social Security Decides If A Child Is Disabled For Purposes Of Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

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Children age 18 or over

All documents and evidence relating to the child's disability are sent to a state office, usually called the Disability Determination Service (DDS). At DDS, a team comprised of a disability evaluation specialist and a doctor reviews the child's situation to decide if he or she meets the Social Security definition of disability. To learn more, see: Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

If the available records are not sufficient for the DDS team to make a decision, you may be asked to take your child to a special examination for which Social Security will pay. It is important that the child undergo this examination if requested, and that the child puts forth his or her best effort during the examination. The results of the examination will not be considered valid unless a child puts forth his or her best effort. Failure to attend the examination, or invalid results due to poor effort, could result in an unfavorable decision.

Children Under Age 18

A under the age of 18 will be considered to be disabled if each of the following are present:

  • He or she has a physical or mental condition (or a combination of conditions) that results in "marked and severe functional limitations."
  • The condition lasts or is expected to last at least 12 months or be expected to result in the child's death.
  • The child must not be working at a job that Social Security could consider to be substantial work. For practical purposes, the child should not be working when applying for SSI.

To decide if a child is disabled, the disability evaluation specialist first checks to see if the child's disability can be found in a special listing of conditions that is contained in Social Security's regulations. If not in the listing, the question becomes whether the condition is medically or functionally equal to an impairment that is on the list.

The listings are descriptions of symptoms, signs or laboratory findings of more than 100 physical and mental problems that are severe enough to disable a child. For example, the list includes cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and muscular dystrophy.

A child's condition does not have to be one of the conditions on the list. If the symptoms, signs or laboratory findings of the child's condition are the same as, or medically equal in severity to, the listing, the child is considered disabled for SSI purposes.

A child will also be considered disabled if the functional limitations from his or her condition or combination of conditions are the same as the disabling functional limitations of any listed impairment.

To determine whether a child's impairment causes "marked and severe functional limitations," the disability evaluation team obtains evidence from a wide variety of sources who have knowledge of the child's condition and how it affects his or her ability to function on a day-to-day basis and over time. These sources include, but are not limited to, the doctors and other health professionals who treat the child, teachers, counselors, therapists and social workers.

A finding of disability will not be based solely on a parent's statements or on the fact that a child is, or is not, enrolled in special education classes.

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