If your child has a disability that greatly affects their ability to function, they may qualify to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a monthly cash benefit.
Requirements for Disability for Children
To figure out if your child qualifies for benefits, you must learn the requirements that must be met.
In order for your child to be considered for SSI benefits as a child, he or she must be under 18 years of age. The exception to that rule is if your child is still enrolled full time in junior high or high school (this does not include college). In that circumstance, your child will be eligible for SSI childhood benefits until the age of 22.
After children reach the age of 18 (or 22 in some cases), their disability will be reevaluated under the adult listings. For more on this redetermination, see disabilitysecrets.com's article When a Child Receiving SSI Disability Becomes an Adult.
For SSI, you must fall below a certain income level in order to qualify for benefits. Social Security considers the income of the parent with whom the child lives when determining benefits for the child. If the child lives with a parent and a step parent, the income of the stepparent will also be considered. If the child does not live at home, only the income and resources of the parent who is in charge of the child and who the child visits on weekends and holidays will be considered.
In a process called “deeming,” Social Security will look at the income and resources of the qualifying parent(s) and count a certain amount of the parent's income as income of the child. The child must meet SSI income limit in order to move forward in the process of applying for disability benefits. Read more about the SSI income limit.
There are two ways to show that your child is medically disabled: by showing your child's condition meets the requirements of a disability a listing or "functionally equals" the listings because of limitations in one or more areas of functioning.
Meeting a listing. Social Security has a “blue book” that lists impairments that, if met, will qualify your child for disability benefits. To meet one of these listings, you must provide medical evidence to show that your child meets every element in the listing. For children, there are 14 different listings in the “blue book” that cover a variety of impairments. Below are the listings and some of the impairments they cover.
- 100. Growth Impairment (either by a determinable impairment or not)
- 101. Musculoskeletal System (inability to walk, spina bifida, burns)
- 102. Special Senses and Speech (loss of hearing, limited vision)
- 103. Respiratory System (asthma, cystic fibrosis)
- 104. Cardiovascular System (congenital heart disease, heart transplant)
- 105. Digestive System (inflammatory bowel disease, malnutrition)
- 106. Genitourinary (chronic kidney disease requiring dialysis, nephoretic syndrome)
- 107. Hematological Disorders (sickle cell disease, anemia)
- 108. Skin Disorders (ichthyosis, dermatitis)
- 109. Endocrine Disorders (diabetes, thyroid gland disorder)
- 110. Impairments that Affect Multiple Body Systems (Down syndrome)
- 111. Neurological (epilepsy, cerebral palsy)
- 112. Mental Disorders (anxiety, depression, eating disorders)
- 113. Malignant Neoplastic Diseases (cancers, including leukemia)
- 114. Immune System (lupus, HIV/AIDS)
Some of these listings are covered in Nolo's section on getting SSI for specific childhood conditions. If your child’s impairment does not exactly meet a listing, your child's condition may be able to "equal" a listing if you can show that his or her impairment is very similar to the listing and that is as severe as that in the listing.
Functionally equaling the listings. A cornerstone of the disability requirement for adults is that their disability prevents them from working (unless they meet a listing). For children, this requirement is generally not applicable, so Social Security looks at how your child’s functional abilities are limited in six domains of functioning.
Functionally equaling the listings means that your child has “marked” impairments in two of the six functional categories described by Social Security or one “extreme” impairment. A “marked” limitation is one that seriously interferes with your child’s ability to function. An “extreme” limitation is one that very seriously interferes with your child’s ability to function. In both situations, the limitation may be caused by one severe impairment or a combination of smaller limitations.
The categories used by Social Security to evaluate your child’s functioning include:
- Acquiring and using information
- Attending to and completing tasks
- Interacting and relating to others
- Moving around and manipulating objects
- Self care, and
- Health and physical well being.
For more on functionally equaling the listings and how the different categories are applied, see disabilitysecret.com's article on Evaluation of a Child's Functional Abilities for SSI Disability Benefits.
Length of Disability
Your child’s disability must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months. There are some exceptions to this rule; for example, children born with low birth weights can qualify for presumptive disability before they reach the age of six months.
Learn more about getting SSI for a child's disability.