Social Security Disability Benefits for a Disabled Adult Child

Disabled adults who don't have enough work credits can sometimes use their parent's work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) is designed to help people who can no longer work because of a medical condition or impairment. Generally, SSDI is available to people who've worked long enough to earn enough work credits to qualify. But, in certain circumstances, the program can also benefit disabled young adults with little or no work history.

If you have a "disabled adult child" (18 or older), your child might be eligible for Social Security disability payments based on your earnings history. And if you're a disabled young adult over 18, you might be able to collect disability benefits based on your parent's work history.

Here's what it takes for a disabled adult child to qualify for SSDI and how to apply for these benefits.

When a Child Becomes Disabled Before Age 22

A disabled child or young adult whose income is low enough can apply for SSI (Supplemental Security Income). (Learn more about getting SSI for a child.) But SSDI usually pays more in monthly benefits.

Fortunately, your disabled child might be eligible for SSDI dependents benefits if you've paid Social Security taxes (FICA or self-employment tax), even if your child has never worked or paid into Social Security. And the Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn't consider your child's age a factor in qualifying, as long as the adult child became disabled before age 22.

This program is often called SSDI for "adults disabled since childhood," even though the qualifying disability might not have started until adulthood (between age 18 and 22). And beneficiaries under this program are often called "disabled adult children" (DAC), because they collect Social Security disability benefits based on their parent's work record.

Qualifying Under a Parent or Grandparent's Work Record

For a disabled adult child to collect SSDI, a parent, adoptive parent, or stepparent must be:

  • currently receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits (SSDI), or
  • deceased and had earned enough Social Security credits before dying to be entitled to retirement or disability benefits.

In some cases, a grandchild or step-grandchild can be eligible for SSDI benefits if there's no living parent and the grandparent or step-grandparent:

  • is collecting retirement or disability benefits, or
  • was entitled to collect them before dying.

Although this Social Security benefit is called a "child's benefit," your disabled adult child must be over 18 to qualify. But your adult child doesn't need to be a young person. In fact, because parents don't usually begin collecting Social Security benefits until late in life, disabled adult children can sometimes be middle-aged before becoming eligible for benefits.

Eligibility Requirements for a Disabled Adult Child

To collect SSDI child benefits, a disabled adult child must:

  • be at least 18 years old
  • be unmarried (although when two disabled adult children get married, benefits can sometimes continue)
  • fit the SSA's adult definition of disabled (and the impairment needs to have lasted 12 months, be expected to last for 12 months, or be expected to be fatal)
  • have a disability that started before the adult child reached the age of 22, and
  • not have substantial income, called "substantial gainful activity," or SGA (the maximum amount a non-blind disabled person can earn in 2024 is $1,550 per month).

Filing for Disability Benefits for a Disabled Adult Child

A disabled adult child seeking SSDI benefits under a parent's work record can't file for benefits online. However, you will save time if you start the process by filling out the Adult Disability Report (SSA-3368-BK) before you contact the SSA (you can find complete instructions for the form on the Social Security website). Next, contact the SSA at (800)772-1213 to make an application appointment at your local SSA office.

When you apply for SSDI, the SSA forwards your paperwork to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) in your state. That's the agency that will make the decision on your child's disability.

How DDS Determines Whether an Adult Child Is Disabled

A claims examiner and a medical consultant (a doctor who works for DDS) will together decide if your disabled adult child has a disability that matches or is equivalent to a listing in the SSA's Blue Book Listing of Impairments. If the impairment doesn't match or equal a listing, they'll determine if it prevents your adult child from doing work.

DDS will look at your adult child's skills and educational level, including any vocational training, to determine if your child can perform any job. People with vocational training might not qualify for benefits—if they have job skills and they can perform a job that uses those skills. It's essential to keep accurate school and medical records involving any evaluation of your adult child's skills by teachers and other professionals. For more information, see our article on who Social Security considers legally disabled.

It will probably take several months to process your adult child's SSDI application. The good news is that the SSA generally pays benefits retroactively (up to 12 months before you applied for disability).

What If Your Adult Child Became Disabled After Age 22?

An adult child who becomes disabled after age 22 can still sometimes qualify for Social Security disability, but not for adult child benefits. Becoming disabled after turning 22 means your child will be treated as a disabled adult. To get benefits, an adult must either:

  • have low enough income and assets to qualify for SSI, or
  • have worked and paid into Social Security long enough to collect SSDI.

While an adult must have some work history to be eligible for SSDI, young adults require fewer "work credits" to qualify for SSDI benefits.

A work credit represents three months of work where the person earned at least $1,730 (in 2024); you can earn up to four credits in one year.

Most people need to have earned 20 credits within the last 10 years to be eligible for SSDI. But a young adult worker under 24 needs to have earned only six credits in the three years before the disability started. And young adults aged 24 to 31 need to have worked half the time since they turned 21. For instance, a young adult who becomes disabled at 25 must have earned two years' worth of credits, or eight credits, in the last four years to be eligible for disability.

If you or someone you know was disabled after age 22 and you have questions about SSDI eligibility, you can contact the SSA. You might also benefit from talking with a lawyer specializing in Social Security disability claims.

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