Applying for Disability Based on a Learning Disability or Developmental Delay

A child's learning disability must be severe and well documented to qualify for SSI disability benefits.

Many low-income parents of children with learning disabilities apply for SSI in the hopes of getting disability benefits. Children with learning disabilities or developmental delays can benefit from the tutors, therapy, lessons, or camps for learning disabilities that SSI payments can help pay for.

The SSA (the Social Security Administration) has established the criteria needed for children to be medically approved for SSI disability in its Listing of Impairments. In 2017, the SSA created a new disability listing that recognizes learning disability as a disabling medical condition. The listing is for “neurodevelopmental disorders,” listing 112.11. The requirements for the listing is discussed below. (For children with borderline intellectual functioning or intellectual disorder (formerly called mental retardation), see our articles on disability and borderline intellectual functioning or disability and intellectual disorder.)

Listing Requirements for Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Under this listing, a child must have significant difficulties learning and using academic skills, and must be either extremely limited in one of the following areas or "markedly" (severely) limited in two of the following areas:

  • understanding, remembering, or applying information (ability to learn term and concepts, follow instructions, solve problems)
  • interacting with others (ability to understand social cues, cooperate, make and maintain friendships, handle conflicts)
  • concentrating on tasks and maintaining pace (ability to complete tasks in a timely manner, ignore or avoid distractions, work close to others without distracting them), and
  • managing oneself (ability to protect self from harm, regulate emotions, control behavior, maintain personal hygiene).

Many children with severe learning disabilities will be able to show that they are severely limited in learning and understanding, but those with an IQ above 70 generally won’t be extremely limited in this area. And many children with learning disabilities won’t have a severe limitation in a second area (social, concentration, or managing oneself), so it can be difficult to meet this listing.

Required Documentation

To apply for disability based upon a learning disability, you will have to provide documentation of the learning disability and how it impairs your child's functioning in the above listed areas. A good source of information with regard to learning disabilities is school records. Generally, school records include a longitudinal history of the learning disability, and they document a child's level of functioning over time. School records include various standardized testing, psychological testing, and educator commentary that provides a unique insight into the child's overall functioning throughout the school years. School records will also show whether the child requires special education or special classes and how the child performs in school, both of which are key determinant of whether disability benefits will be granted.

Even if a longitudinal history of the child's learning disability is documented, Social Security may still wish to obtain a current measure of the child's learning limitations; you may be asked to bring the child to a psychological consultative evaluation to evaluate the child's current level of functioning.

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