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October 2017

If someone you love has a mental or developmental disability, he or she might be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers resources for people of all ages who are unable to work due to an illness. Social Security benefits may be spent on medical bills, childcare, utilities and other expenses, or any other daily living needs.

Technically Qualifying for Disability Benefits

Most people with special needs will not have worked throughout adulthood, so they’ll only be eligible for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. These benefits are awarded to families with the most severe financial need, meaning income will play a big role in qualifying. Income limits will vary depending on whether or not you’re applying on behalf of a minor child or an adult.

Children and SSI

Children with an intellectual disability will not have assets or income of their own, so their claim’s approval will depend on how much income their parents have. Your family’s income limit will vary depending on how many children you have. A single parent with one child could not earn more than $37,000 while qualifying, but a two-parent family of five could earn up to $54,000 per year. You can view a chart on the SSA’s website to determine how much your family can earn.

Adults and SSI

Adults will have far stricter income limits, but because many people with intellectual disabilities are not working, it’s often easier to qualify after age 18 than as a child. An adult applying for SSI cannot earn more than $735 per month, or have more than $2,000 in saved income or assets, like a second car or second home. Even if your child lives at home with you, if he or she is over age 18, your income will not be counted towards your child’s total limits.

If your child has a disability that started before age 22, he or she may also be eligible for benefits on your behalf. Children can receive 50% of your Social Security retirement benefits or your own disability benefits for life, so long as he or she remains unmarried. This is often a great resource for parents with adult children who have an intellectual disability.

Medically Qualifying for Disability Benefits

Technical qualification is only half the battle for disability benefits. Your child or loved one must also have a condition that medically qualifies for benefits. The SSA uses its own medical guide, known as the Blue Book, to evaluate all Social Security applicants and award disability benefits accordingly. The Blue Book contains hundreds of qualifying illnesses, plus the test results or symptoms needed to qualify.

People with Trisomy 21 and Translocation Down syndrome (the most common forms of Down syndrome, representing 98% of the population combined) will automatically qualify with a doctor’s diagnosis and records of a genetic analysis confirming the condition. Autism on the other hand needs significantly more medical information to qualify.

To be approved with autism, your child must have medical records proving the following:

  • Measurable deficits in both verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as social interaction
  • Restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior with a lack of interest in activities or hobbies

Additionally, you must show that your child has extreme difficulty in one of the following areas of function, or significant difficulty in at least two areas of function:

  • Understanding, remembering, and applying information
  • Interacting with others
  • Completing tasks and maintaining concentrating
  • Adapting and managing oneself, which essentially means behaving appropriately in a workplace setting

The entire Blue Book is available online, so you can review it with your child’s doctor to determine where he or she may medically qualify.

Starting Your Application

When applying for SSI on behalf of someone, you’ll need to apply in person at your closest Social Security office. There are more than 1,300 offices located across the country. To make an appointment to apply, simply call the SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213.

Income is the #1 cause for denial of a child’s claim. If your child is denied benefits due to a technicality, definitely consider reapplying once he or she turns 18.

This article was written by the Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help. They provide information about disability benefits and the application process. To learn more, please visit their website at http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ or by contacting them at [email protected].