Can My Hearing Impaired Child Qualify for SSI Disability Benefits?

Children whose hearing deficit is severe enough to affect their learning, communication, and ability to complete tasks may be able to get SSI disability benefits.

If your child has significant hearing loss that has lasted for at least 12 months, then you should consider applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Hearing loss can affect your child’s speech, learning, and social development. Children are usually tested a few days after birth to determine whether they have any hearing loss. Further testing is performed by an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat) doctor or audiologist.

Hearing Loss and the Listing of Impairments

When your child applies for SSI disability benefits, Social Security will first check its Listing of Impairments (or the “Blue Book”) to assess whether your child's level of hearing meets the requirements of the hearing listing or "medically equals" one of the listings. The SSA has created a special Listing of Impairments for children aged 18 and younger.

Listing 102.10 is for children who have hearing loss but are not using a cochlear implant. To satisfy this disability listing, children aged 5 and younger must have an air conduction hearing test with an average threshold of 50 decibels or higher in the best ear. Children aged 5 and older must have had one of the following:

  • an air conduction hearing test with an average threshold of 70 decibels or higher in the better ear and a bone conduction hearing test with an average threshold of 40 decibels or higher in the better ear
  • a word recognition test with a value of 40% or lower in the best ear, or
  • an air conduction hearing test with an average threshold of 50 decibels or higher in the better ear and a marked limitation in the child's speech or language.

You will need to send evidence of an otologic exam and an audiometric test (taken within two months of each other) to show how the hearing loss (or hearing impairment) impacts your child’s daily life.

Listing 102.11 is for children who have hearing loss but have a cochlear implant (a device that sends signals through the auditory nerve to the brain). A child with a cochlear implant will automatically be considered disabled for one year after implantation. Also, any child under the age of five with a cochlear implant will be considered disabled. As to children over five years old who have had a cochlear implant for a year, they will be considered disabled only if the child has a word recognition test with a value of 60% or lower, using the Hearing in Noise Test (HINT) or the Hearing in Noise Test for Children (HINT-C).

Assessing the Child's Domains of Functioning

If your child’s hearing condition does not meet the guidelines set out in the Listing of Impairments, the SSA will move to the next step of assessing your child’s skills and behavior in six areas of functioning. These areas are learning, interacting with others, taking care of yourself, paying attention and finishing tasks, manipulating objects, and general health. To receive disability benefits, your child must show an extreme limitation in one area of functioning or "marked" limitations in two areas of functioning.

Doctor Opinions

The SSA will rely heavily on the opinions of your child’s pediatrician and any other medical specialist to decide how much your child's hearing deficit limits his or her functioning. For example, if your pediatrician describes your child’s hearing loss as “mild,” the SSA will likely infer that your child functions well in most situations. In contrast, if a doctor states that your child has “moderate” or “severe” hearing loss that is inhibiting social interaction, then the SSA will more likely conclude your child has a marked limitation in functioning. However, any statement by a doctor must be well-supported by medical evidence, such as air conduction test results. If it is not well-supported, then the SSA can choose not to give weight to that opinion.

Depending on the child's age, the SSA will also gather information from your child's school, including any opinions from teachers.

Example of a Child With a Disabling Hearing Loss

A child applying for SSI benefits has delayed communication skills due to his hearing loss. The child has occasional temper tantrums at school because of his difficulty in communicating with others. The child also has problems with clearly articulating his speech. Furthermore, he frequently needs directions repeated to him in the classroom and at home. With these facts, the SSA could find that the child is eligible for disability benefits because he has marked limitations in his ability to interact with others and to attend and complete tasks.

Read more about how the SSA assesses your child's limitations in the six domains of functioning in our article on how a child can functionally equal the disability listings.

If you have questions regarding whether your child is eligible for SSI benefits due to hearing loss, you should contact an attorney who practices disability law.

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