Many parents of children with learning disabilities apply for SSI in the hopes of getting disability benefits. The SSA (the Social Security Administration) does not specifically recognize learning disability as a disabling medical condition, but it is not impossible get benefits for a severe learning problem.
The SSA has established the criteria needed to be medically approved for Social Security disability in its Listing of Impairments. The mental disorders section contains two disability listings that can be used to evaluate cognitive disorders: organic mental disorders and mental retardation (now often referred to as intellectual developmental disorder). Neither of these listings specifically includes learning disabilities, but a severe learning disability might fall into one of the listings. The requirements for the listings are listed below.
Disability Benefits for Learning Disabilities
Children with a developmental delay established by psychological or neuropsychological tests to be related to an organic factor in the brain may be able to get disability benefits if they have severe impairment in two of the following areas:
- cognitive/communicative function
- social functioning
- personal functioning, or
- maintaining focus, persistence, or pace in their school work.
Alternatively, children with a learning disability who have another physical or or other mental impairment that causes an additional functional limitation may be able to get benefits if they have severe impairment in two of the above areas.
Disability for Children With Other Developmental Disorders
For children with ADHD, see our article on ADHD & Social Security Disability.
For children with mental retardation or borderline intellectual functioning, see our article on disability and low IQ.
To apply for disability based upon a learning disability for yourself or your child, you will have to provide documentation of the learning disability and how it impairs the 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; consequently, you may be asked to bring the child to a psychological consultative evaluation to evaluate the child's current level of functioning.