Social Security Disability and SSI for Children

In some cases, children may be able to get supplemental security income (SSI) disability benefits.

If your child is under 18 years old and has a disability, he or she may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). However, to get SSI, your child must have little or no income or resources.

Basic Requirements for Childhood Disability

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will find that your child is disabled if both of the following requirements are met:

  • your child has a mental or physical condition(s) that very seriously limits his or her activities, and
  • the condition has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year.

In addition, your child cannot be doing a substantial amount of work -- what the SSA calls Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). For 2016, SGA is defined as earning $1,130 a month.

Income and Asset Limits

To see whether a child is eligible for SSI, or to determine how much SSI a child can get, the SSA will consider all the income sources available to the child, including:

  • the parent(s)’ income and assets, and
  • any step-parent’s income and resources (but only if the child lives with the step-parent and the natural or adoptive parent.)
The limit on assets is $2,000, but the SSA won't count the first $2,000 of the parent's countable resources (or the first $3,000 if there are two married parents). The income limit varies depending on your state, but is usually lower than $1,000 per month.

The SSA will adjust also the parents’ resource and income amounts to take into consideration any other children that live in the home. Also, some income may be excluded when determining eligibility. For more information, read about SSI income limits on disabilitysecret.com's website.

Medical Requirements for Childhood Disability

If your child has met the basic requirements for SSI and disability, the SSA must then make a medical determination about whether or not your child is disabled.

Listing of Impairments

The SSA’s Listing of Impairments is a collection of medical conditions (called listings) that are usually severe enough to warrant the automatic approval of benefits. However, each listing has a set of criteria that must be met in order to be approved, and meeting this criteria can be tough.

Here are a few conditions that may be eligible for automatic approval under a child's impairment listing:

  • asthma
  • HIV infection
  • mental retardation
  • sickle cell disease
  • cystic fibrosis
  • autism, and
  • ADHD.

If your child’s medical condition meets all the criteria for an impairment listing, he or she will be approved for disability benefits automatically. Because the criteria are complicated, it may be helpful to speak to an experienced disability attorney to determine whether your child’s condition may meet a listing. Your child’s doctor may also be able to review the criteria with you to see if they are met.

Although low birth weight isn't the subject of an impairment listing, if your baby was born at a very low birth weight, he or she may qualify for SSI; see our article on getting SSI for a premature baby.

Medical Conditions That Don't Meet a Listing

If your child’s medical condition does not meet a listing, the SSA will evaluate how your child’s impairment affects certain areas of your child’s life, called “domains of functioning.” To be found disabled, your child’s condition must cause a “marked” limitation in at least of the two domains or cause an “extreme” limitation in at least one domain.

Domains of functioning. There are six domains that the SSA will assess. These are the child’s:

  • ability to learn and use information
  • ability to attend and complete tasks
  • ability to interact and relate with others
  • ability to move about and manipulate objects
  • ability to care for personal needs, and
  • general health and physical well-being.

Age groups. To determine the extent of how your child is affected by his or her condition, the SSA will see if your child has achieved certain benchmarks that an average unimpaired child of the same age is expected to meet. Each domain has its own set of benchmarks depending on the age of the child.

Limitations. A “marked” limitation is one that seriously interferes with your child’s ability to “independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.” It means more than a moderate limitation but not as severe as an extreme limitation. An “extreme” limitation is one that very seriously interferes with your child’s ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.

Form SSA-538. The SSA will use the evidence you have submitted on your child’s behalf to complete Form SSA-538. Here are some examples of the evidence the SSA will use:

  • school records
  • individualized education plan (IEP) reports
  • doctors’ records
  • hospital records
  • lab results, and
  • reports from therapists or psychologists.

Even though the SSA will complete the SSA-538, you can print out a sample SSA-538 form and ask your child’s medical and educational providers to fill out the "domain evaluations" area. An attorney can be helpful in making sure that your child’s providers fill out the form properly and that they provide any necessary evidence.

Disability Reviews

If your child is approved for SSI, the claim will be reviewed occasionally to make sure he or she is still financially eligible and still has a disability.

  • A child who is younger than 18 and whose condition is expected to improve will be reviewed at least every three years.
  • A child who receives SSI because of low birth weight will be reviewed by his or her first birthday (unless the SSA determines the child has a condition that is not expected to improve by that time).
  • A child who turns 18 will be reviewed again and assessed under the adult disability standards.

SSDI for Adult Children

If your adult child has a disability that started before the age of 22, he or she may be eligible for Social Security disability income (called SSDI or SSD) if you or the child's other parent is insured by Social Security. For your child to be eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on your earnings record, either parent must:

  • be receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or
  • have died and worked long enough to qualify for Social Security.

Your disabled adult child can continue to receive SSDI as long as he or she is disabled, even if he or she never works.

SSDI dependents benefits can also be paid to the child of a parent who is, or was, insured for Social Security. Children who have a parent receiving SSDI or retirement benefits or who died while insured for Social Security can receive these benefits until they turn 18, whether or not they are disabled. After the child turns 18, the SSA will use determine whether the child is disabled and continue to receive Social Security benefits as an adult child.

Getting Help From a Disability Attorney

Because getting benefits for your disabled child can be time consuming and stressful, it may be helpful to talk with an attorney who is experienced in handling children’s SSI claims. 

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