Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurological disorder caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance, and muscle tone. Usually, doctors don't know what caused the damage to the brain, but it most often happens before a child is born, although it can occur at birth or in infancy up to about age three.
Children with severe CP generally require a lot of care. These children often qualify for disability benefits. This article addresses the Social Security benefits available for children with cerebral palsy.
(For information on adults, see our article on how adults with CP can qualify for Social Security disability.)
Cerebral palsy cases can range from very mild to very severe. But the neurological and physical limitations it causes are considered "nonprogressive," meaning they won't get worse over time. And since there's also no cure for CP, the therapies a child receives for it are aimed at coping with the symptoms.
Because CP can be quite limiting and can't be cured, Social Security has included it among its listing of impairments (called the Blue Book).
Almost every child with CP experiences problems with muscle tone, motor function, coordination, posture, and reflexes. Cerebral palsy can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
If cerebral palsy symptoms severely limit your child's ability to function at the level of other children that age, and your income is low, your child might qualify for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA)—specifically, Supplemental Security Income.
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program benefits disabled people from low-income households. SSI is the only disability benefit that minor children can qualify for.
To get SSI benefits, a child with severe CP must meet Social Security's household income and asset limits. Both the child's income and resources (if any) and the child's family's income and assets count toward the limits. But not all of the parent's income is counted. Learn more about what counts toward SSI income limits.
If the child meets the financial requirements, they'll still need to meet Social Security's medical requirements to get SSI disability benefits. Children from low-income families who have severe problems caused by cerebral palsy should qualify for SSI disability benefits.
Social Security's listing for childhood cerebral palsy is listing 111.07. Children with severe motor dysfunction should meet the requirements of the listing and automatically qualify for SSI, but children whose CP causes only slight impairments won't meet the listing.
To satisfy the requirements of the listing for cerebral palsy, your child must have problems with two extremities (arms and/or legs) that cause severe difficulty with at least one of the following:
For older children with cerebral palsy to qualify for SSI based on their difficulty walking, standing, or balancing, Social Security may look at their ability to:
Your child must have motor difficulties with both legs that result in either the inability to balance while standing or walking without the use of a hand-held device that requires the use of both arms, such as a walker, two crutches, or two canes. That means a child who can walk effectively with one cane generally won't qualify for SSI. But if your child needs to use both arms to operate a walker, your child might qualify for disability.
Alternatively, your child can qualify for benefits if they have trouble rising from a seated position without using the assistance of another person or a walker, two crutches, or two canes.
If your child is too young to be expected to walk or stand up independently, Social Security will look at their functioning in comparison to other children their age.
When cerebral palsy affects a child's ability to use their upper extremities (shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, and fingers), Social Security will examine their fine and gross movements.
For younger children, Social Security will look at things like the ability to:
The agency will be looking to see whether your child is able to perform these tasks in an age-appropriate manner.
For older children, Social Security may judge a child's ability to use their hands or arms effectively by looking at things like the ability to:
Note that Social Security no longer considers a low IQ (less than 70) as a factor in determining whether your child qualifies for disability benefits under the cerebral palsy listing. However, a child with a very low IQ might still be eligible for SSI benefits under a different listing. (Learn more about getting disability benefits for a child with low IQ.)
A child who doesn't meet Social Security's cerebral palsy listing requirements still might be eligible for SSI benefits if the child's condition functionally "equals" the impairment listings. If you can show that your child's cerebral palsy very seriously interferes with their daily functioning, your child could qualify for SSI.
To equal a listing, your child must have serious limitations in two of six areas of functioning or one "extreme" limitation. This doesn't mean your child must have a total loss of an ability, but CP symptoms must interfere with your child's ability to initiate, sustain, or complete independent tasks.
Learn more about the areas of functioning Social Security considers and what it takes to equal the listings.
Children with serious disabilities can sometimes get expedited presumptive disability benefits—advanced payments of SSI. Because it can take several months for Social Security to determine if a child qualifies for benefits, the agency has created a list of serious disabilities that can qualify someone to receive disability benefits faster. Cerebral palsy with severe impairments is on that list.
Your child might qualify for presumptive disability benefits if they have cerebral palsy and severe difficulty with any of the following:
SSI presumptive disability payments can last up to six months or until your child's claim is decided, whichever comes first. If your child needs benefits right away, you can ask about presumptive disability benefits when you apply for Social Security.
To apply for SSI disability benefits for your child with cerebral palsy, you can contact the Social Security field office nearest you or call Social Security at 800-772-1213. TTY is available for the hearing impaired at 800-325-0778.
The fastest way to get the Social Security disability application process started for your child is to complete an online Child Disability Report. After you submit the report, Social Security will contact you (generally by phone) within 3-5 business days. The Social Security representative who calls will review the following with you:
If everything's in order, the Social Security representative will then start the full SSI application process with you.
Learn more about how the Social Security disability application process works.
Updated August 24, 2022
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