Getting SSI Disability for Auditory Processing Disorder for a Child

Children with auditory processing disorder (APD) that's severe enough to impair their communication might qualify for SSI disability.

By , J.D. · Albany Law School
Updated by Bethany K. Laurence, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

About 5% of school children are affected by auditory processing disorder (APD). And for many, APD has a significant impact on their ability to function, especially at school.

A child with auditory processing disorder who can't function at a level necessary to succeed at school (or at home) might be eligible to receive disability benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. But only those children with the most severe APD will qualify for SSI disability.

Is Auditory Processing Disorder a Disability?

Children with APD, also commonly known as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), have difficulty understanding what they're hearing, due to a lack of coordination between their brains and ears. APD isn't hearing loss or a learning disability (although a child with APD might need additional educational resources).

Children with APD can't detect subtle differences between sounds in words even though they have no difficulty actually hearing the words. For example, a child with APD might have difficulty distinguishing between words that sound similar, such as cat and hat or cow and clown. Background noises or distractions further limit the child's ability to understand words.

Depending on how severely it affects daily functioning, Social Security might consider your child's APD a disability (more on this below).

What Are the Symptoms of APD?

The symptoms of APD can vary from mild to severe and are different in every child. Common symptoms can include difficulty with:

  • understanding speech spoken quickly or in a noisy room
  • following conversations
  • paying attention and remembering information provided verbally
  • following multistep directions—or even simple directions in severe cases
  • processing information quickly (for example, when answering questions)
  • expressing thoughts clearly, and
  • tuning out loud or sudden noises.

One significant indication that your child might have APD is if the child's performance improves significantly in a quiet environment as compared to a busier one.

Over time, if APD is untreated or unsuccessfully treated, children can develop speech impairments or academic difficulties with reading, spelling, or writing due to their lack of auditory processing skills.

Qualifying for SSI for Auditory Processing Disorder

Severe impairments caused by auditory processing disorder can sometimes qualify a child for disability benefits. For your child to receive SSI disability, you'll need to meet the financial requirements of the program, and your child's condition must meet Social Security's definition of disability.

Your child can satisfy the medical requirements for disability by meeting a listing in Social Security's Blue Book or "functionally equaling" the listings. But SSI is a needs-based program, so only children whose families have low incomes and few resources will qualify for benefits.

SSI's Financial Requirements: Income and Asset Limits

For your child to be eligible for SSI, your family (if the child lives with you) must meet the program's strict income and asset limits. Social Security doesn't count all of your income or assets toward the limits—for instance, you get an allocation for living expenses for each parent and any other children living in the household, and your home won't count towards the limit.

Still, for your child to receive benefits, your family's countable income can't be higher than the SSI limit. Learn more about how your family income affects your child's SSI eligibility.

Medical Requirements: Meeting a Disability Listing with APD

To meet one of Social Security's disability listings (conditions that are severe enough to qualify automatically as disabling), you must prove that your child's impairment matches the required elements of the listed impairment. For children with auditory processing disorder, that's listing 111.09, for communication impairments, under the section for neurological disorders.

Children can meet the communication impairment listing if one of the following is true:

  • The child has significant comprehension deficits that have led to ineffective verbal communication for children their age (meaning that the child must have serious limitations in their ability to communicate orally).
  • The child has speech deficits that significantly impact the clarity and content of their speech (meaning the child must have a severe limitation in communicating, so that a person who's unfamiliar with the children cannot easily understand their speech).

Although APD generally doesn't involve hearing impairments, your child can also meet the requirements of the communication impairment listing with documentation of a neurological disorder that resulted in significant hearing loss. (Learn more about getting disability benefits for a child with a hearing impairment.)

Qualifying Medically by Equaling a Listing With Auditory Processing Disorder

To "equal" a disability listing, you must show that your child has an impairment that's very similar to a listed impairment and is equal to the listing in both severity and duration.

The communication impairment listing above has separate criteria for comprehension and speech deficits. But if your child doesn't quite meet either the comprehension deficit part of the listing or the speech deficit part alone, your child could equal the listing with a combination of speech and comprehension problems that prevent effective communication.

Medical Evidence Needed to Meet or Equal the Listing

To prove your child meets or equals the communication impairment listing, you'll first have to show that your child has a documented communication impairment associated with a neurological disorder. To do that, you'll need evidence, such as:

  • an APD diagnosis from your child's doctor, with information about the underlying neurological problem
  • recent evaluations of your child's communication abilities and limitations, and
  • detailed reports on your child's specific comprehension and speech deficits from qualified professionals, like audiologists or speech pathologists.

It's also very helpful to provide a doctor's opinion that the severity of your child's impairment meets the listing requirements or that your child's combined comprehension and speech deficits equal the level of impairment required for the listing.

Learn more about the medical evidence needed to win a disability claim.

Proving Disability by Functionally Equaling the Listings

If your child doesn't technically meet (or equal) the exact requirements of the listing, your child might still qualify to receive benefits if the child's APD is considered as severely limiting as other listed conditions. Your child must have severe impairments in one or more of six functional areas (this is called "functionally equaling the listings").

The functional areas relevant to APD include "acquiring and using information" and "attending and completing tasks." There are five main areas children with APD have difficulty with:

  • hearing the difference between similar words and sounds (can affect the ability to follow directions and read, spell, or write)
  • remembering information that's provided verbally (can be immediate or after some time has passed)
  • paying attention when there's background noise (including typical classroom environments and noises)
  • maintaining focus to listen long enough to obtain necessary information (listening to a lecture or lengthy directions on how to do a task), and
  • using higher listening skills (skills needed for higher-level auditory processing and language use), like:
    • drawing inferences from conversations
    • completing verbal math problems, and
    • understanding riddles.

Serious problems in these areas of functioning could affect your child's ability to acquire and use information and to complete tasks, because APD makes understanding what someone says extremely challenging for the child. For more information, see our article on functionally equaling the children's listings.

Applying for SSI for a Child With APD

Applying for SSI disability benefits for a child is a two-step process. You must:

  1. Let Social Security know that you need to file a child's SSI application.
  2. Work with a Social Security representative (by phone or in person) to complete the application.

You can notify Social Security about your intent to apply for SSI disability for a child by using the online appointment request form or by filling out an online child disability report. Once you submit one of these online forms, Social Security will contact you to get the application process started.

You also have the option to apply for a child's SSI benefits by phone by calling Social Security's national office at 800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You can speak to a representative on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (local time).

You could also file your child's SSI disability application in person at your local Social Security field office. It helps to make an appointment first, or you could face potentially long wait times.

Don't worry if you don't have all your child's medical records available when you contact Social Security. The representative will have you sign a release so Social Security can gather them.

Learn more about the Social Security disability benefits available to children.

Updated April 10, 2024

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