Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a neurological disorder that causes damage to the parts of the brain that control movement. CP can be caused before or at birth, or in infancy up to about age three. CP can cause a range of symptoms, including problems moving, problems with vision, communication difficulties, epilepsy, musculoskeletal problems, and cognitive problems.
Children who come from low-income families and who have severe problems caused by cerebral palsy should be able to get SSI disability benefits. This article addresses Social Security benefits for children with CP. For information on adults, see our article on how adults with CP can qualify for Social Security disability.
Meeting the Childhood Listing for Cerebral Palsy
Social Security’s listing for childhood cerebral palsy is listing 111.07. Children with severe motor dysfunction will qualify automatically for SSI, while those with less severe motor dysfunction will need to show an additional impairment to qualify. Children whose CP causes only slight impairments will not qualify for SSI.
Children With Severe Motor Problems
Children with cerebra palsy who have problems with two extremities that cause either severe difficulty walking or severe difficulty with fine and gross movements will satisfy the requirements of Social Security's listing for cerebral palsy (and be approved for benefits). Fine and gross movements are things like reaching, pushing, pulling, grasping, and fingering, performed in an age-appropriate manner. For the problems to be severe enough to satisfy the listing, they must very seriously interfere with the child’s ability to begin, sustain, or complete an activity.
For older children, examples of inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively include things like the inability to prepare simple food and feed oneself and the inability to take care of personal hygiene. For younger children, Social Security will compare their fine and gross motor skills with others of the same age. If your child’s motor skills are typical of children who are half his age, then your child should satisfy this part of the listing.
To satisfy the listing based on a child’s inability to walk, the child must be unable to walk independently without the use of a hand-held device that requires the use of both arms. Usually, that means that a child who can walk effectively with a cane will not qualify for SSI, but a child who needs to use both arms to operate a walker will qualify.
For children who are older, to qualify based on their difficulty walking, they must be incapable of sustaining a reasonable walking pace over a sufficient distance to be able to carry out age-appropriate activities or unable to travel age-appropriately without extraordinary assistance to and from places outside the home, like school. Children are likely to satisfy this part of the listing if they are unable to walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces, unable to use standard public transportation, or unable to climb a few steps at a reasonable pace with the use of a single hand rail. The ability to walk independently in the child's own home without the use of assistive devices does not, in and of itself, mean that they do not meet the listing.
For children who are too young to be expected to walk independently, Social Security will look at their functioning in comparison to others of their age. If your child’s motor function is at the level that one would expect of a child who is no more than one-half of his age, then your child should satisfy this part of the listing.
Another way for a child to satisfy a listing for CP is to show that she has a major problem in one of the weight-bearing joints in her lower limbs (hip, knee, ankle) that results in problems walking or problems in one joint in each arm causing severe difficulties with fine and gross movements.
Children With Less Severe Motor Problems
If the child has less severe motor problems, she can still meet the listing if she has some other impairments -- unless her motor problems are only slight. Children who have some motor dysfunction plus one of the following will satisfy the listing:
- an IQ of 70 or less
- a seizure disorder, having had at least one major motor seizure in the year before applying for SSI
- significant communication problems due to a deficit in speech, hearing, or vision, or
- a significant emotional disorder.
Presumptive Disability Benefits
Social Security has a list of serious disabilities that may qualify an individual to receive disability benefits faster. Cerebral palsy with severe impairments is one of the disorders that entitles an applicant to presumptive disability benefits. If your child has cerebral palsy and severe difficulty walking, speaking, or using his hands or arms, then he may qualify for presumptive disability benefits, which are advanced payments of SSI. To apply for presumptive disability benefits, you can contact the Social Security field office nearest you or you can call Social Security at 800-772-1213.