Getting Disability Benefits for a Child With Epilepsy

Children with frequent seizures and low income can qualify for disability benefits from SSI.

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Children with epilepsy may be able to get federal disability benefits in the form of Supplemental Security Income (SSI.) However, to be eligible, the child must meet both the Social Security Administration's (SSA’s) definition of disabled and an income and asset test (based on the child's parents’ financial situation). This means that even if the SSA decides a child is disabled, he or she will not be entitled to SSI if the child’s parents make too much money or have too many other resources. (Learn more in our article on childhood SSI.)

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by seizures, which occur when the brain’s cells send too many signals to the body and disrupt the brain’s normal function. Frequently, there is no known cause of epilepsy, but it can be caused by birth trauma or head injuries, congenital brain development problems, brain tumors, heredity, ormedications.

Whether epilepsy results in severe limitations for a child (in other words, is disabling) depends on its severity and its type. Sometimes, even small seizures can damage the brain. Children with epilepsy may experience personality and mood changes, difficulty in school, and injuries during a seizure.

Does a Child With Epilepsy Meet the Definition of Disabled?

The SSA has identified some medical conditions that are severe enough to usually warrant an approval of benefits. These conditions are known as “impairment listings.” Each listing has certain requirements, all of which must be satisfied, in order to be approved. Epilepsy is one of these conditions that may entitle your child to an automatic approval of benefits. But if your child's condition doesn't meet the requirements of one of the listings below, there is another way to qualify as disabled.

Listing for Convulsive Epilepsy

To be approved for disability under this listing, your child must have been diagnosed with convulsive epilepsy and have been on seizure medication for at least three months. The other requirements depend on how often your child has seizures.

If your child has major motor seizures (usually called tonic-clonic or grand mal seizures) at least once a month, your child's seizures must either occur during the day and be convulsive and/or cause loss of consciousness or must occur at night but negatively affect your child’s daytime activities.

If your child has had at least one major motor seizure in the last year, your child must also have:

  • an IQ of 70 or less
  • significant interference with his ability to communicate because of speech, hearing, or visual defects
  • a significant mental disorder, or
  • significant adverse side effects from medication that interfere with your child’s major daily activities.

Listing for Non-Convulsive Epilepsy

To satisfy the listing requirements for non-convulsive epilepsy, your child must have received a definitive diagnosis of a seizure disorder and have more than one minor motor seizure (such as a petit mal or partial seizure) per week, despite at least three months of prescribed treatment. Also, your child's seizure must cause either:

  • an alteration of awareness during the seizures, or
  • a loss of consciousness during the seizures.

It may be helpful to talk to your child’s neurologist to see if her epilepsy meets the listing requirements. You can visit the SSA’s website for more information about the childhood epilepsy listing.

How Can My Child Get SSI If His Epilepsy Doesn’t Meet the Listing?

Children whose epilepsy doesn't technically meet one of the listings but still interferes with their functioning may still be able to get disability benefits. In these cases, Social Security must agree that your child’s epilepsy causes a “marked” (severe) limitation in two areas of functioning or an “extreme” limitation in one area of functioning. (In that case, Social Security will say that your child's condition "functionally equals the listings.")

Here are the six areas of functioning (called domains) the SSA will assess:

  • learning and using information
  • attending and completing tasks
  • interacting and relating with others
  • moving about and manipulating objects
  • caring for personal needs, and
  • the child’s general health and physical well-being.
If Social Security finds that your child's functioning in these areas is extremely or markedly limited, your child will be approved for SSI. For more information on how the SSA assesses how significantly your child's seizure disorder affects these domains, see our article on functionally equaling the listings.

Getting Help From an Attorney

Trying to prove your child's condition fits into Social Security's definition for disability can be difficult and time-consuming, especially for a parent who is caring for a disabled child. It may be helpful to talk about your child’s case with a disability attorney who is experienced in representing children. To find an attorney in your area to talk to, fill out our request for consultation with a disability attorney.

The requirements are a bit different for adults with epilepsy; if you are an adult, see our article on disability for adults with epilepsy for more information.

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