Hearing impairments in children can be present from birth (congenital) or can develop over time (acquired). For example, a hereditary ear abnormality known as microtia causes the external, visible part of the ear to be malformed, resulting in varying degrees of hearing loss. Acquired hearing loss may be the result of repeated infections, such as meningitis.
Microtia and other hearing impairments can be diagnosed by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) or audiologist. Because hearing loss can affect your child's speech, learning, and social functioning, they may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits.
Children who have hearing loss that significantly interferes with their development and communication might be able to qualify for SSI disability benefits in one of two ways:
A listed impairment is a medical condition that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has decided is serious enough to be automatically disabling. Children with the most severe cases of hearing loss may be awarded disability benefits by meeting a listing, while children who don't meet the listing requirements can still qualify if they are very limited in other areas.
You'll need to provide the SSA with evidence of an otologic exam and an audiometric test taken within two months of each other to show that your child has been diagnosed with a hearing impairment.
The SSA has two listings for hearing loss, one for children with a cochlear implant and one for those without. If your child has so much difficulty hearing that they can't recognize most of the words or sounds present during a hearing test, they're likely to meet the relevant listing.
Listing 102.10 covers children without cochlear implants. To meet this listing, the results of your child's audiometric or word recognition tests must meet certain thresholds, depending on age.
Children younger than five years of age can only meet this listing if they have an air conduction hearing test with an average threshold of 50 dB or greater in their better ear. But children ages five and older can meet this listing in additional ways, if they have the following results:
Under listing 102.11, children with cochlear implants will automatically be considered disabled for one year after implantation or until they've reached age five (whichever is later).
Children over five years old who've had a cochlear implant for longer than one year will be considered disabled if they have a word recognition score of 60% or less according to a specific type of test—the Hearing in Noise Test (HINT) or the Hearing in Noise Test for Children (HINT-C). These tests measure the ability to recognize speech in quiet and noisy environments.
Having the exact test results required to meet the hearing loss listings can be a challenge. But the SSA can still find that your child is disabled if you can show that, as a result of their hearing loss, they have an "extreme" limitation in one area of functioning or "marked" limitations in two areas of functioning.
Social Security will consider any difficulties your child has in six areas of functioning (called domains) that the agency uses to cover a range of basic daily activities. These domains are:
Deciding whether your child has "marked" or "extreme" limitations in these domains can be difficult because the terms aren't very well defined. The SSA will rely on opinions from pediatricians, hearing specialists, and teachers to help determine the extent of your child's limitations.
For more information, see our article on disability benefits for children.
Updated January 11, 2023