Getting Social Security Disability for Cerebral Palsy

Learn about the criteria Social Security looks at when deciding whether to grant disability benefits based on cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a general term used to describe a set of neurological and physical limitations that are non-progressive (meaning they don't get worse). It is generally believed that cerebral palsy begins in the womb and, in fact, 75% of individuals with cerebral palsy are thought to be born with the disorder. However, there are a few cases of cerebral palsy that occur during birth and after birth. The cause of cerebral palsy is unknown in approximately 80% of cases. In roughly 20% of cases, the cause is determined to be related to malnutrition, infection, or severe head trauma at an early age.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

There are four types of cerebral palsy: spastic, mixed, ataxic, and athetoid. The most common form of cerebral palsy is the spastic type, affecting about 70% of all individuals who have the disorder. All classifications of cerebral palsy, however, involve problems with muscle tone, motor function, coordination, posture, and reflexes. Additionally, some individuals with cerebral palsy have problems with hearing and vision as well as speech and learning, and many adults with CP have an intellectual disability and/or a low I.Q. 

There is no known cure for cerebral palsy, and treatment options include various therapies to cope with the effects of the disorder.

Getting Disability Benefits for Cerebral Palsy

Mild cerebral palsy will not qualify for benefits, but if cerebral palsy severely disrupts activities like walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or thinking, disability benefits may be available. In its Listing of Impairments that automatically qualify for disability, Social Security details how significant the impairments caused by cerebral palsy must be to qualify for disability. The listings are listing 11.07 is for adults and 111.07 for children, under the section for neurological disorders. (If you need to apply for SSI for a child with cerebral palsy, the rules are a bit different; see how children with cerebral palsy can qualify for disability benefits.)

Meeting the Listing for Cerebral Palsy

Listing 11.07 for cerebral palsy was updated significantly in 2016. In order to meet the listing today, Social Security requires you to have one of the following, caused by cerebral palsy:

  • The inability to control the movement of at least two extremities (either an arm and a leg or two arms or two legs), resulting in extreme difficulty in the ability to balance while standing or walking, to stand up from a seated position, or to use the arms.

OR

  • “Marked” physical problems along with a "marked" limitation any one of the following:
    • thinking (understanding, remembering, or applying information)
    • interacting with others (social problems)
    • finishing tasks (problems with concentration, persistence, or speed), or
    • regulating emotions, controlling behavior, adapting to changes.

(Marked means seriously limiting.) 

OR

  • Significant limitations in communicating on a sustained basis due to speech, vision, or hearing problems (such as aphasia, strabismus, or sensorineural hearing loss).

Note that a drop in I.Q. of at least 15 points that results in marked limitations is no longer is method of qualifying for benefits for multiple sclerosis.

Getting Approved Through a Functional Capacity Assessment

If you don’t automatically qualify for disability benefits under the above listing for cerebral palsy, Social Security is still required to consider the effect of your impairments on your capacity to perform routine daily activities and work. A DDS medical consultant will evaluate your physical and mental functional capacities using a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form. The RFC form looks at your ability to stand, walk, use your hands, see, hear, and speak. After your RFC assessment, Social Security decides whether, given the work activities that your RFC says you are limited to doing, there are any jobs you can be expected to do. For information on how the agency makes this decision, see our section on how Social Security uses the RFC to decide if you can work.

Expedited Presumptive Disability Payments

If you apply for SSI and are likely to be found medically eligible for CP, Social Security could grant you immediate benefits rather than make you wait for months to get a decision. If you have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and have severe difficulty speaking, coordinating hand and arm movements, or walking without braces, you probably qualify for these “presumptive disability” benefits.

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