Getting Social Security Disability for Cerebral Palsy

Learn about the criteria Social Security looks at when deciding whether to grant disability benefits based on cerebral palsy.

By , Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

Cerebral palsy (CP) refers to a group of neurological disorders that affect the ability to move and maintain balance. Hallmarks include stiff muscles, uncontrollable movements, and poor coordination (ataxia). These symptoms commonly begin during infancy or childhood. CP is a chronic condition that can't be cured, only managed.

While all people with cerebral palsy have problems with movement and posture, some people have additional related conditions including seizures, limited vision or hearing, changes in the spine (such as scoliosis), or intellectual disorders. Depending on how severe these conditions are, the Social Security Administration (SSA) might consider them disabling.

Is Cerebral Palsy a Disability?

The SSA provides disability benefits for children and adults with cerebral palsy whose records contain specific evidence set out in the agency's "Blue Book." The Blue Book—also called the listing of impairments—sets out the medical criteria needed to determine if somebody can be found automatically disabled.

Adult Cerebral Palsy

Adult cerebral palsy is evaluated under listing 11.07. Adults have several ways they can meet this listing:

  • you have trouble with at least two of your arms or legs to the point that you can't get up from a chair, walk without falling, or hold and carry objects without assistance
  • you can move independently, but you struggle to maintain mental focus, or
  • you're so limited in your ability to see, speak, and hear, that you can't communicate well.

Adults with mild to moderate cerebral palsy symptoms might not qualify for automatic benefits under listing 11.07, but can still be found disabled if they can show that they can't work full-time for at least one year.

Childhood Cerebral Palsy

Childhood cerebral palsy is evaluated under listing 111.07. For the SSA to find that you (or your child) meet the requirements of this listing, the record needs to show that you're having so much difficulty using your arms or legs that you need help with very basic movements like getting up from a chair, holding a fork, or walking without falling.

For more information, see our article on SSI benefits for children with cerebral palsy.

Does Mild Cerebral Palsy Qualify for Disability?

Because CP isn't a degenerative disorder—meaning symptoms don't worsen over time—you might have a milder form of the disease that isn't disabling on its own. But people with CP often have other conditions that can limit their activities. Social Security is required to consider the combined effects of these conditions on your ability to work.

The SSA will review your function report and doctor's notes to make a determination about your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is the agency's estimate of the most you're capable of doing, physically and mentally, in a work environment. A typical RFC for an adult with cerebral palsy includes restrictions on:

  • how long you can stand and walk
  • how much weight you can lift and carry
  • whether you need an assistive device like a cane, walker, or crutch
  • how long you can use your hands and fingers to move objects
  • whether you can work around hazardous machines, loud noises or low lights, and
  • whether you can follow complex or simple instructions.

The SSA uses your RFC to determine whether you can perform any jobs that you've done in the past. Depending on your age and past work, the agency will then look to see whether any other jobs exist that you could do within the limitations of your current RFC. If no jobs exist that you can currently do despite your restrictions, the SSA will find you disabled.

What Types of Disability Benefits Can I Get for Cerebral Palsy?

The Social Security Administration provides two types of disability benefits—Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Before you can qualify medically for these benefits, you'll have to meet financial eligibility requirements.

Adults with cerebral palsy can get SSDI, SSI, or both. Depending on which program you qualify for, you might also be eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, and dependents' benefits for your family. For more information, see our article on additional benefits you can get from Social Security.

Children who meet the medical listing for cerebral palsy will receive SSI benefits until they turn 18, after which they will be re-evaluated under the adult listing for CP. At that time, they might qualify for SSDI as disabled adult children.

How to Apply for Disability for Cerebral Palsy

Adults who want to start an application for disability benefits have several options:

  • Apply online at Social Security's website. Filing online has many benefits, such as giving you a dated receipt of your application, and allowing you to start and finish the application at your own pace.
  • Apply over the phone at 800-722-1213 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you're deaf or hard of hearing, you can call the TTY number at 800-325-0778.
  • Apply in person at your local Social Security field office. Please note that this option can involve lengthy waiting and COVID-19 precautions.

Submitting a disability application for a child is a bit more challenging. You can provide Social Security some basic information online here and the agency will contact you to schedule an in-person appointment to finish the application. You can also complete the Child Disability Report online, but you (or your child) will still need to attend the appointment.

Expedited Presumptive Disability Payments

In certain circumstances, people with very serious cerebral palsy symptoms who apply for SSI can begin receiving benefits immediately under "presumptive disability." Presumptive disability is a way for Social Security to provide temporary, short-term SSI payments to applicants that the agency thinks are highly likely to be found disabled. Presumptive disability benefits are available for the first six months while your application is processed, and you don't have to repay the presumptive benefits if Social Security later denies your application.

Updated November 28, 2022

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