Social Security Disability Benefits for Children

Disabled children under age 18 can receive Social Security disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, or “Child’s SSI.” In order to qualify for children’s disability benefits, Social Security requires that the child:

  1. Is not working at a job that Social Security considers to be substantial work; and
  2. Has a physical or mental condition (or a combination of conditions) that results in “marked and severe functional limitations.”  This means that the condition(s) very seriously limits his or her activities; and
  3. The condition(s) has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 1 year or is expected to result in death.

Note: some conditions result in presumptive disability decision. If your child has one of these condition, he or she may be able to be instantly approved.

However, the majority of children’s disability cases focuses on the second part, the requirement of that a condition produces “marked and severe functional limitation.” There are several ways of doing this:

  1. Just as in adult cases, a child may meet one of the Listing of Impairments. A listing of medical conditions, acceptable medical evidence, and the severity necessary for an impairment to be considered disabling. The children’s listings are available here.
  2. An impairment may also “medically equal” a listing level impairment. Medically equaling an impairment means that the child’s impairment is not provided in the listings, however, the conditions produces the same or very similar symptoms and limitation as a listed impairment. Note: while you can certainly consider medically equaling a listing, as a practical tip, it is often better to consider meeting or “functionally equaling” a listing.
  3. An impairment may also “functionally equal” a listing level impairment. This is another way of saying that the child’s condition is as bad as a listing level impairment. However, there are very specific rules for functional equivalence which are best discussed in their own article.


Additionally, just like the adult SSI program, income and asset limits apply. One wrinkle in children’s SSI case is that Social Security looks at household income and assets (instead of just those of the child). Social Security has pages discussing how it decides whether parents’ and child’s income and resources are within allowed limits.

The household financial limits sometimes make children financially ineligible for children’s SSI benefits even though they might meet the medical requirements for disability.

If denied on financial grounds, parents sometimes wait to re-apply for Social Security benefits for their children until the child is 18. At 18, only the child’s income and resources are counted. However, the child is then evaluated under the adult standard for Social Security disability.

Another option parents are often not aware of when re-applying at age 18, is also apply for Social Security Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefits.

  • DAC provides benefits under the parent’s contribution to Social Security (which may allow for higher monthly benefits).
  • As a Title II benefit program, DAC does not count non-compensation sources of income. Gifts, support, inheritance, settlements would not affect DAC eligibility.
  • DAC benefits provide Medicare health insurance instead of Medicaid coverage provided with SSI.

Disabled Adult Child benefits have additional requirements. For example: one parent needs to have worked long enough paying into Social Security to qualify.

  • http://planet10tech.com/ TomaszStasiuk

    For another take on this Social Security children’s benefits, check out Lewis Lusk’s post: http://www.social-security-disability-lawyer-blog.com/2011/03/social-security-disability-and-6.html

  • Disability Help

    Hi Tomasz,

    Yes, if the parents finances disqualifies you for benefits, you will have to wait till you are 18 to apply as an adult.

    However, I believe it is a lot harder to qualify for disability as an adult than as an child. A good example of this can be seen in disability claims that involve ADHD. Child Disability Benefits for ADHD are based heavily on academic performance, making it easier to qualify for SSI.

    • http://planet10tech.com/ TomaszStasiuk

      Ok. Let’s run with that for a bit. Assuming it is easier to get a child on disability than a young adult, a financial denial still means Social Security does not even get to a medical decision. Whether ADHD claims are easier for children vs adults is a moot point if you do not even get to that step in the analysis.

      Some families who are just a bit over the income limits may be able to modify their compensation to be able to squeak under. When a child has severe medical expenses (frequent hospitalizations), it may even be worthwhile for one parent to stop working altogether because the value of Medicaid coverage may outweigh the value of the salary (especially if there are no health benefits).

      However, parents also need to understand that financial eligibility is a **continuing** requirement of children’s SSI benefits. I have had cases where parents were eligible at the time of application, however by the time the case was resolved they were no longer eligible. They received a few months of benefits, and that was it for 18 months of struggling with a disability claim.

      That is not even the worst outcome. If financial eligibility is not maintained, it may result in an overpayment of benefits. Getting a five figure bill in the mail shatters most families.

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  • Dfranks

    I am a grandparent of a disabled child. My grandson was born with Vater Syndrome.  He had multiple admormalities in the spine, hands and arms. He also had only one kidney at birth and congential scholeosis. He will be having mulitply surgeries.

     His mother had to stop working to make sure he made all his appointments to the Dr.’s and therapy. His Dr.’s are 3 hours from home.
     The baby’s SSI check was cut due to his Dad making too much money!! They went from two checks to one. My daughter has worked at the same job for almost 13 years.

     His dad works at a factory and works sometimes only 3 to 4 days a week. My grandson’s check went from $687.00 to $111.00 a month. The parents seperated due to the financial difficulties they were having. Now my grandson can draw the full disability check. This seems to discourage parents from taking care of their children and staying together as a family. I just don’t get it. His benefits go up if his parents seperate!

    • Chaseyboysmom

      my family is going throught the same thing right now..we are a blended family with a total of four children..our youngest has a neuromuscular disease ..hypomylenating neuropathy..i quit my job to upkeep with therapy and dr appointments, fortunately my husband found a better job , but with tht job we lost our ssi benefits for our child, so now my husband works 70 hrs a week, i never see him and we are barely making it..it would be easier if he had a crummy fulltime job, or if we seperated…who is here to help me when i need expensive equipment for my child or need to modify my house?? my son is turning three soon and is getting heavier and more awkward, he cannot sleep ina crib forever, or be pushed in a stroller forever…its very scary all the challenges we will be faced with and the last thing we need is financial woes to burden us even more

  • Charly Agan

    My son receives Adoption subsidies my husband just retired so we are now drawing S.S. for my son because he is not 18 yet. Will I lose my sons subsity?

  • Sara

    If my daughter gets ssi and I’m dealing with foster care but she’s placed with her aunt can I her mother still be payee and make sure it goes on her???

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