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SSI Benefits for Intellectual Disability

By October 3, 20195 min read

Although Social Security Disability (SSD) is what most people think of when it comes to disability benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a means-based disability program that can be a lifeline for disabled individuals who have either never worked because of their disability or cannot qualify for SSD because they do not have enough work credits to meet Social Security Administration’s (SSA) requirements for SSD.

SSI becomes particularly important for disabled children. In order for a child to qualify, he or she must be under age eighteen and be blind or disabled; additionally, the impairment must be expected to last for a continuous twelve-month period or result in the child’s death. There is no minimum age requirement, so the date of eligibility can be the date of the child’s birth. Once the child turns eighteen, he or she will be evaluated based on the disability definition for adults.

Frequently, the children who qualify for SSI benefits have an intellectual disability. In years past, intellectual disability was referred to as mental retardation, but that phrase has fallen out of favor due to derogatory connotations associated with it. Intellectual disabilities are generalized disorders that are characterized by a severe impairment in a child’s adaptive functioning and intellectual development. A child can qualify for SSI benefits for an intellectual disability if that disability causes such limited intellectual functioning that it severely affects the child’s life.

SSA recognizes a variety of disability categories when evaluating children for SSI benefits for intellectual disabilities. They include intellectual disability; emotional disturbance; deafness; autism; orthopedic impairment; hearing impairment; deaf-blindness; or a combination of multiple disabilities.

Intellectual disabilities are characterized by below-average mental ability or intelligence along with a lack of skills necessary to accomplish day-to-day living. Intellectual disabilities are frequently confused with learning disabilities and developmental disabilities, but they are not synonymous. Learning disabilities encompass weaknesses in areas of academic skills, such as math, writing, and reading; developmental disabilities involve intellectual and physical disabilities.

Intellectual disabilities can often be diagnosed through use of an intelligence quotient (IQ) test. The test was initially developed in France to help the French government determine which children suffered from cognitive impairments and would need extra assistance in school. The average IQ is around 100. IQ tests used to be the sole diagnostic tool to determine cognitive abilities, but modern practitioners use IQ scores in conjunction with how well individuals function in everyday life. Today, an IQ score of 1-24 represents profound mental disability; 25-39 represents severe mental disability; 40-54 represents moderate severe mental disability; 55-69 represents mild mental disability; and 70-79 represents borderline mental disability.

If a child’s IQ is 70 or lower, he or she may be diagnosed with an intellectual disability if he or she also faces impairments in the ability to communicate or interact with others. SSA does not look at a particular type of intelligence test when evaluating a child for SSI benefits for an intellectual disability. It will recognize various tests so long as they are standardized, valid, and provide results that have been shown to be accurate.

Parents often wonder what the causes of intellectual disabilities are. Unfortunately, they could be genetic conditions that are passed on within families. They could be the result of drug and alcohol use while the mother was pregnant. Intellectual disabilities can be caused by injuries such as head trauma or illnesses such as meningitis. And labor and delivery can cause them as well, such as in cases where the newborn baby has its oxygen supply cut off. The most common intellectual disability syndromes include Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), Down syndrome, autism, and Fragile X syndrome.

If you think your child might be suffering from an intellectual disability, observe his or her behavior. Signs that he or she has a low IQ include your child’s difficulty communicating or socializing with others, less than average scores on an IQ test, learning and/or developing slower than other children the same age, and sitting up, crawling, walking, or rolling over much later than is developmentally appropriate. Make an appointment with your pediatrician to have your child evaluated, and then, if you receive a confirming diagnosis of intellectual disability, consider contacting an experienced SSI attorney who can guide you through the process of applying for and (hopefully) receiving SSI benefits for your child’s intellectual disability.