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Children With Disabilities: Social Security Benefits

Benefits For Older Children Living With A Disability And For Adults Disabled Since Childhood

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Although children under 18 who are disabled may be eligible for benefits, Social Security doesn't need to consider a child's disability when deciding if they qualify for Social Security dependent's or survivor's benefits.

However, when a child who is getting a dependent's or survivor's benefit from Social Security reaches 18, those benefits generally stop unless one of the following conditions is met:

  • The child is a full-time student in an elementary or high school. In this case, benefits continue until age 19.
  • The child is disabled. In this case benefits can continue as long as the child remains disabled, even into his or her adult years.

Many times an individual doesn't become eligible for a disabled child's benefit from Social Security until later in life. For example: John Jones starts collecting Social Security retirement benefits at the age of 62. He has a 38-year-old son, Ben, who has had cerebral palsy since birth. Ben can start collecting a disabled "child's" benefit on his father's Social Security record.

How Social Security Decides If An "Adult Child" Is Disabled

Social Security will evaluate the disability of an adult child (age 18 or older) who is applying for Social Security for the first time, or who is being converted from a Social Security dependent child's benefit, by using adult disability criteria.

Briefly, to qualify for disability, an adult must have a physical or mental impairment, or combination of impairments, that is expected to keep him or her from doing any "substantial" work for at least a year or is expected to result in death. (Generally, in 2008, a job that pays $940 or more per month is considered substantial.) For more information, see Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

The individual's condition is compared to a listing of impairments that are considered to be severe enough to prevent an individual from working for a year or more. If the individual is not working and has an impairment that meets or is equal to a condition on the list, then he or she is considered disabled for Social Security purposes.

If Social Security cannot match the person's impairment with one of the listings, then an assessment will be made of his or her ability to perform the same type of work he or she did in the past (if any). If the person cannot do that work, or does not have any past work history, then Social Security will consider his or her ability to do any kind of work he or she is suited for (based on age, education, and experience). If, considering all these factors, a person is found to be unable to do any substantial work, then he or she would qualify for disability benefits from Social Security.

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