Narcolepsy is a nervous system disorder that causes daytime sleep attacks and a strong feeling of needing to sleep. The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, although it does tend to run in families. Common symptoms of narcolepsy include:
There is no cure for narcolepsy, but symptoms can sometimes be controlled by scheduling naps and in some cases taking prescription medicine. Narcolepsy can cause difficulty functioning at work or school and can lead to accidents and injuries if a person is so sleepy that he or she can’t function or if the person can’t control the urge to nap.
There are three ways to qualify for disability: if your medical condition is on the list of impairments the Social Security Administration (SSA) publishes and meets the severity levels described for the specific impairment. Otherwise, you'll need to equal a listing or qualify based on your impairments effect on your ability to work.
Narcolepsy is not one of SSA's “listed impairments,” so you will not be eligible for disability this way. Don’t worry; there are other ways the SSA can find that you are disabled.
Since narcolepsy is not a listed condition, the SSA will look at whether your symptoms associated with narcolepsy are “equal to” a different condition that is listed. In some cases, the SSA has found people with narcolepsy disabled by equaling the listing for epilepsy.
If you suffer from narcolepsy and have frequent sleep attacks, your condition may be found to medically equal to having dyscognitive seizures, which are part of the epilepsy listing. In order for your narcolepsy to be considered equal in severity to the epilepsy listing, you'll need to show that you suffer from:
(For more information on getting disability for dyscognitive seizures, see our article on disability for epilepsy.)
You should make sure the SSA has the following:
If the SSA determines that your narcolepsy is not equal to the epilepsy listing, or another listed impairment, it doesn’t necessarily mean your claim will be denied. The SSA has one more step it will go through to determine whether or not you are disabled for purposes of SSI or SSDI.
The SSA will look at all of the evidence in your file, which includes medical evidence and non-medical evidence, such as statements from you, your family and friends, therapists, and so on, to assess your residual functional capacity, or “RFC.” Your RFC dictates what type of work you can do and what your limitations are.
If you have narcolepsy, your RFC assessment will almost certainly be limited at the very least to: no work where you need to drive; no work involving heavy or dangerous machinery; and no work in high, unstable, or otherwise unsafe places.
If the SSA decides that, based on the severity of your narcoleptic symptoms and the work restrictions you need to keep yourself and others safe, there is no job you can perform, you will be eligible for disability under a “medical-vocational allowance.”
Applying for disability, whether you apply for SSI, SSDI or both, can be a confusing and complex process, and it can be difficult to win benefits based on equaling another listing without the help of a lawyer. Many communities have legal aid or other services that provide assistance and resources for people applying for disability benefits. Or, contact a local disability lawyer, whose attorney fees will be limited to a percentage of your backpay benefits, if you win disability benefits.