Getting Disability for Growth Impairment or Growth Disorders

Children with properly documented growth impairments can qualify for disability payments through SSI.

By , M.D.
Updated by Bethany K. Laurence, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated 1/26/2024

Some growth disorders and impairments can be seen at birth, while others aren't apparent until a child's growth fails to keep pace with other children their age. Children with growth disorders can receive disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Children with growth impairments can get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits if their families qualify financially. To qualify for SSI disability, your child's impairment must meet specific criteria regarding height and weight compared to other children of the same age.

Social Security distinguishes between height and weight when assessing growth impairments for disability benefits. Short heights are evaluated under the growth impairment listing, while weight deficiencies are assessed under other listings.

Causes of Growth Impairments in Children

Several different disorders and ailments can cause children not to grow as tall as they should. Here are a few of the more common ones:

  • Human growth hormone (rhGH) deficiency causes a noticeable slowing of growth. Hormone replacement therapies can often help a child to reach an average adult height.
  • Cushing's syndrome is caused by too much cortisol in the body and is characterized by weight gain without changes in height. This syndrome can also lead to a weakening of the bones and overall weakness throughout the body.
  • Hypothyroidism is caused by an underactive thyroid gland (which controls hormones).
  • "Nutritional short stature" is caused by improper nutrition that prevents the body from developing properly. Malnutrition can also lead to bone weakness and wasting, which can often be reversed through proper nutrition.
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome is caused by drinking during pregnancy and can cause short stature.
  • Intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) occurs in the womb and causes short stature.
  • Russell-Silver syndrome usually begins in the womb and causes additional symptoms beyond short height, including hypoglycemia and kidney malformation.
  • Disproportionate short stature (commonly referred to as "dwarfism") is caused by impaired growth of the bones and cartilage in the body.
  • Achondroplasia is the most common growth impairment and is characterized by specific physical features.
  • Diseases of the heart, lungs, and kidneys can prevent the body from absorbing the proper nutrition and thus lead to short stature.
  • Diabetes can cause slow growth, especially in children whose blood sugar levels are poorly controlled.
  • Bone disorders, including bone dysplasia, affect bone development and cartilage growth and result in short stature.

Learn more about getting disability for a child with low birth weight.

How Children With Growth Impairments Can Qualify for SSI Disability Benefits

Children can be eligible for SSI disability benefits. (Children aren't eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits unless they have a parent who's receiving SSDI, in which case they might be able to get dependents benefits.)

To qualify for SSI, your child must meet both technical and medical requirements:

  • SSI technical requirements: SSI is a needs-based program, so the household in which your child lives must meet certain income and asset requirements.
  • SSI medical requirements: Your child must "meet" or "equal" a listing in the Social Security Blue Book for growth impairments or must "functionally equal the listings."

There are two listings for growth impairments that Social Security uses to evaluate children: one for infants and one for children up to age 3.

Does Your Infant's Condition Meet a Disability Listing?

Listing 100.04 is for children from birth to one year of age, and is satisfied by a birth weight of less than 2 pounds 10 ounces (1200 grams), or a birth weight that falls into the parameters of the following table:

Gestational Age Birth weight
37-40 weeks 4 pounds, 6 ounces
36 weeks 4 pounds, 2 ounces
35 weeks 3 pounds, 12 ounces
34 weeks 3 pounds, 5 ounces
33 weeks 2 pounds, 15 ounces
32 weeks 2 pounds, 10 ounces

The chart above takes gestational age into account because premature babies generally don't weigh as much as full-term babies, but they also don't necessarily have any kind of growth problem. Along with birth weight, a doctor routinely determines gestational age when a child is born using several possible means, such as:

  • the Dubowitz criteria (an evaluation of things like skin texture and motor function), and
  • the New Ballard Score (based on neuromuscular signs of maturity).

Does Your Child's Condition Meet a Disability Listing?

Listing 100.05 is for children from birth to three years old. This listing requires evidence of growth impairment and a developmental delay.

To establish a growth impairment under listing 100.05, your child must have at least three height and weight measurements in a year, at least 60 days apart, that are less than the third percentile. The specific measurements needed depend on your child's age:

In addition, evidence of a developmental delay is required. Specifically, the child must have a test score on a standard developmental assessment that either:

  • is at least two standard deviations below average, or
  • shows development that's two-thirds or less than what's expected for the child's age.

If there's no valid developmental test score as described above, the child can still meet this requirement by submitting at least two narrative descriptions that meet all of the following criteria:

  • They come from a qualified medical source (such as an M.D., psychologist, or Ph.D.).
  • They're dated at least 120 days apart, and
  • They indicate the child has development that's two-thirds or less than what's expected for the child's age.

Medical Evidence Required to Prove a Growth Impairment

To satisfy Social Security's growth impairment listings (100.04 or 100.05), it's not necessary to show the reason the impairment exists—you just need an adequate medical history and physical examination.

A child who doesn't meet the requirements of either of these listings might still qualify for SSI if the child has a chronic disease that qualifies under a different listing. For example, any serious chronic illness, such as severe lung disease, heart disease, or kidney disease, could be the basis for approval for benefits, without even considering the growth impairment.

It's also possible for a child with a documented disorder and a growth impairment to qualify for benefits if the combined effect of the disorders is severe enough to equal a listing—even if neither separately would qualify. (Learn more about how Social Security evaluates multiple impairments.)

Qualifying for SSI by Functionally Equaling the Listings

Children who don't meet the listing for growth impairments can sometimes qualify for disability benefits by "functionally equaling the listings." To qualify this way, your child must have significant functional impairments—that is, impairments that can be considered equal in severity to the listings in the Blue Book.

There are six functional domains that Social Security assesses in determining this functional equivalency:

  • interacting with others
  • acquiring and using information
  • completing tasks
  • fine and gross motor skills (movement)
  • self-care, and
  • health and physical well-being.

Your child must have two "marked" (severe) limitations or one "extreme" limitation within the six functional domains.

Children with growth impairments sometimes have physical difficulties with things like movement and self-care due to their short height or short limbs. For instance, your child might have difficulty climbing stairs or getting dressed without help due to these physical limitations. But it's fairly rare for a child to functionally equal the listings for growth impairment.

Learn more about what's required for a child to functionally equal the listings.

Continuing Disability Reviews for Children

If your child is approved for benefits, Social Security will conduct periodic reviews (based on your child's medical records) to determine if the child is still disabled. All children approved for SSI benefits undergo these periodic reviews (called "continuing disability reviews," or CDRs). Those with disabilities that could improve, such as growth impairments, will be reassessed at least every three years, or even more frequently.

During the review, Social Security will look at your child's current medical condition and records for signs of improvement. The SSA will also look for evidence that your child is getting necessary medical care.

Learn more about how continuing disability reviews work.

How to Apply for SSI Disability for Your Child

Applying for SSI disability for a child is a two-step process. First, you must tell Social Security that your child needs to apply for SSI disability benefits, and then a Social Security representative will help you fill out the SSI application. There are three ways to begin the application process:

  • Fill out the online child disability report, after which Social Security will contact you (within three to five days) to complete the application.
  • Call Social Security at 800-772-1213 to make an appointment to apply for benefits by phone, or
  • Request an appointment using the online form, after which Social Security will send you an appointment (usually by mail) within 7 to 14 days.

Initially, Social Security will need basic information about you and your child, such as:

  • your names
  • contact information, and
  • Social Security numbers (SSNs).

Next, Social Security will need to see all your child's medical records (which the SSA will help gather), school records if applicable, and information about your family's income and financial resources.

Learn more about what it takes to get SSI disability benefits for a child.

Or, if you're an adult with short stature who's interested in applying for benefits, see our article on getting disability benefits for short stature or dwarfism.

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