Children with an intellectual disorder, low IQ, or mental retardation can qualify for SSI disability benefits if their intellectual functioning is so limited that it severely affects their life.
If your child meets the financial eligibility guidelines for SSI, Social Security will consider whether his or her intellectual disorder is disabling enough to qualify. To qualify medically for SSI, children must have a disability that severely limits their ability to function and is expected to last at least twelve months.
Social Security has a listing of mental and physical impairments that are presumed to be severe enough to qualify for SSI. In 2017, Social Security changed its listing for intellectual disability significantly. Social Security now calls the impairment "intellectual disorder"; previously it used the term "mental retardation." The disorder is also known as general learning disability, mental disability, or intellectual development disorder.
A child can be automatically approved for disability based on low IQ if he or she meets all of the criteria in the SSA’s listing. The listing for intellectual disorder is listing 112.05, described below. It applies only to children who are three years old and older. Children who turn 18 are evaluated under the adult listing for intellectual disability, which is very similar to the children's.
For disability applications filed after January 27, 2017, the new listing requires that, in addition to a low IQ, the child must have deficits in one or more areas of functioning, like social interactions, comprehension, concentration, or managing him or herself.
Here's what the new listing requires:
For applications filed before January 27, 2017, there were three ways that a child could meet the listing for intellectual disability, regardless of the child's age. Your child could meet the listing if he or she has one of the following:
There is a different standard for children whose incapacity is so severe and intellectual functioning so subaverage that they can't function well enough to take an IQ test. These children will automatically be granted benefits if their adaptive funcitoning is poor enough that they are dependent on others for their personal needs (for example, toileting, eating, dressing, or bathing), in excess of age-appropriate dependence.
Children who have a full scale, performance, or verbal IQ score of 71 above won’t qualify for benefits under the intellectual disorder listing. Social Security evaluates borderline intellectual functioning, which is often diagnosed by IQ test scores between 71 and 84, under the neurodevelopmental disorder listing.
Because of the difficulty in diagnosing IQ in infants and toddlers under three, Social Security doesn't use the intellectual disorder listing for children of this age. Instead, Social Security has listing 112.14, for Developmental Disorders Infants and Toddlers. To qualify for SSI under the listing, an infant must have a condition that causes significant delays in functioning. In infants, physicians may look for symptoms like failure to feed properly, failure to mimic or engage in facial expressions, and severe under- or over-reactions to sounds or sights.
Specifically, the listing requires that the child have a delay or deficit in the development of age-appropriate skills and an extreme limitation of one of the following developmental abilities, or a severe limitation of two:
Social Security uses this listing to evaluate disorders such as developmental coordination disorder, separation anxiety disorder, sensory processing disorder, and general developmental delay.
If your child does not meet the criteria of the intellectual disorder listing, she still might be eligible for SSI if her impairment (or combination of impairments) medically or functionally "equals" the listings. To succeed, you will have to show that your child's condition is medically equivalent to the listings or that her condition very seriously interferes with her daily functioning. For more information, see our article on getting SSI for a child by functionally equaling the listings. Functional equivalence can be especially important for very young children, since they are old enough to exhibit serious limitations but may not be old enough for a doctor to assign a specific diagnosis.