SSI Disability Benefits for Children and Teenagers With Anorexia or Other Eating Disorders

Teenagers and children who have serious eating disorders that are causing functional limitations may qualify for SSI.

Anorexia nervosa, commonly referred to as anorexia, is an eating disorder in which individuals starve themselves due to an unrealistic view of their bodies. Bulimia nervosa, commonly referred to as bulimia, is another eating disorder, in which the individual binges and purges. Anorexia and bulimia often occur together. If your child suffers from anorexia or bulimia so severe that it affects their ability to function, it may be possible to receive disability benefits through Supplemental Security Income (SSI). (For those over 18, who can receive either SSI or Social Security disability benefits, see our article on disability for adults with eating disorders.)

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Some children are naturally slender, picky eaters, or show minimal interest in food. However, children and teenagers who suffer from anorexia go beyond normal childhood issues to a point where they can be harming themselves both in the short-term and long-term. Some of the signs of anorexia and eating disorders include:

  • anxiety, depression, perfectionism, or being highly self-critical
  • excessive or compulsive dieting
  • dieting even when thin
  • rapid weight loss that is covered up by loose clothing
  • unusual interest in food, and/or
  • strange eating habits.

Short-Term Effects of Eating Disorders

Short-term effects of anorexia can include:

  • emaciation
  • dry and yellowing skin
  • dehydration and dizziness
  • abdominal pain
  • constipation and slowing of the intestinal track
  • fatigue and anemia
  • intolerance to cold temperatures and growth of lanugo, which is a fine hair that grows on your body to keep you warm
  • lowered blood pressure, pulse, body temperature, and breathing rates, and
  • social withdrawal, irritability, moodiness, and/or depression.

Long-Term Effects of Eating Disorders

After your child begins to eat normally again, the short-term effects generally will go away. However, there are some long-term effects that can occur due to the stress placed on the body, including:

  • damage to the major organs, including your brain, heart, or kidneys, and
  • thinning of the bones.

It is important to remember that recovery from anorexia or bulimia is not as straightforward as treating other diseases. As it is a psychologically based disease, your child may relapse and will likely need ongoing treatment to maintain healthy eating habits.

When Eating Disorders Qualify for Disability Benefits

In order for your child to qualify for disability benefits through the SSI program, there are certain income requirements the household in which they live must meet. Once the technical requirements are met, your child must be found medically eligible by meeting the impairment listing for eating disorders in the Social Security “Blue Book” or “functionally equaling” the listings.

Meeting the Listing for Childhood Eating Disorders

Prior to 2017, the impairment listing for eating disorders was 112.07, Somatoform, Eating, and Tic Disorders. In 2017, Social Security added a new listing to the Blue Book for eating disorders, listing 112.13, for teenagers and children suffering from anorexia or bulimia.

To meet this listing, you must show that your child or teen has an eating disorder that results in a change in consumption and significantly impairs his or her physical or mental health. Your child must also show that the eating disorder has caused significant deficits in mental functioning. Specifically, your child will qualify for benefits if he or she has an extreme limitation in one of the following areas (most likely, managing oneself), or a “marked” (severe) limitation in two of the following areas:

  • managing oneself (protect oneself from harm, maintain good hygiene, maintain well-being, regulation emotions, manage psychologically based symptoms)
  • understanding, remembering, or using information (the ability to understand instructions, learn new things, apply new knowledge to tasks, and use judgment in decisions)
  • interacting with others (the ability to use socially appropriate behaviors), and/or
  • concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace in performing tasks (the ability to complete tasks).

(Unlike prior listing 112.02, this listing doesn’t require that your child have an unrealistic perception that they are fat, despite being underweight, or a refusal to maintain a body weight that is greater than 85 percent of the average weight for height and age.)

Evidence Required to Meet This Listing

Social Security may assess your child’s functioning by comparing your child's level of function to other children of the same age while looking at:

  • psychiatric or developmental testing results
  • standardized test results
  • symptoms (complaints reported by your child)
  • signs (medically demonstrable disorders according to a psychiatrist)
  • lab results, and
  • reports from individuals who are around the child, such as parents, teachers, babysitters, and so on.

Functionally Equaling the Listings

If your child does not meet the requirements of the above listing, but still suffers from significant difficulties, he or she may be able to "functionally equal the listings." To functionally equal the listings means that your child’s impairment has to be equal in severity to the impairments in the listings. Social Security assesses whether your child's condition can be considered equivalent to the listings by evaluating six domains of functioning, including learning, performing tasks, socializing, movement, self-care, and health and physical well-being. As in the listing, you must show that your child has two “marked” limitations or one “extreme” limitation within the six domains.

Those with anorexia would have significant difficulty in the domain of “health and physical well-being,” as this domain includes the ability to have knowledge of and provide yourself with proper nutrition. The domain of “interacting and relating with others” will also likely be impaired, as this domain covers the ability to interact with others and maintain relationships with others. For those with anorexia, social withdrawal, depression, and strange eating habits may inhibit the ability to maintain relationships.

For more information on how to show that your child functionally equals the listings, see our article on how a child can functionally equaling the disability listings.

Continuing Disability Review (CDR)

If your child is awarded disability benefits based on his or her eating disorder, he or she will face periodic reviews of the disability. For a disability that has a possibility of improving, like anorexia or bulimia, Social Security assesses your child’s disability every three years. For more information, see our article on CDRs.

Getting Help

When Social Security decides to grant or deny disability benefits based on a child's level of functioning, the medical and school records often don't contain enough information for an informed decision. So the decision often becomes a subjective one, based on the opinions of the claims examiner or administrative law judge who decides the case, rather than an objective one based on the records of doctors and psychiatrists or psychologists. To get help bringing as much evidence in your favor as possible to your hearing, and get your child the help he or she needs, you should consider hiring a lawyer who specializes in disability cases.

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