Doctors diagnose cerebral palsy after some kind of brain injury—occurring either in utero, during birth, or shortly thereafter—causes problems with the use of the body’s muscles. Cerebral palsy is actually a group of disorders. Some cases of cerebral palsy result in muscle stiffness and others involve uncontrollable movements or poor muscle coordination. Cases can also vary in severity. Some people with cerebral palsy can walk independently while others cannot. Those with cerebral palsy may have some impairment with their arms, behavior, speech, hearing, or thinking, while others may not have these problems. Though cerebral palsy presents during infancy, it is a lifelong disorder and affects children and adults, too.
Because cerebral palsy cases are all different, each needs to be individually evaluated by the Social Security Administration for purposes of a disability determination. A cerebral palsy diagnosis does not automatically qualify someone for disability, but the limitations associated with it can certainly qualify someone. Childhood and adult cases are evaluated differently, so we will discuss each separately.
Social Security Disability Benefits for Those Under Age 18 with Cerebral Palsy
Anytime a disability application is filed for someone under 18 years old, Social Security will first consider the family’s financial situation. Disability benefits for children are determined on a need-based analysis. Very high-income families will not be able to obtain SSI for a disabled child, but the income maximum may not be as high as one may think. If your child is disabled, am SSI benefit is worth looking into even if you are living a comfortable lifestyle.
Once Social Security has established financial eligibility for SSI, it will evaluate the claim for medical disability. It will consider the childhood “listing” (medical criteria) for cerebral palsy, which is Listing 111.07. Under this listing, a child with cerebral palsy will be considered disabled if the child has an extreme limitation in the ability to stand up from a seated position, balance while standing or walking, or use the hands and arms.
If Social Security does not find an extreme limitation, the child could still be approved if Social Security finds the child has two or more other “marked” limitations. Social Security rules define “marked” somewhat vaguely; it means less than extreme but more than moderate. In practice, this ambiguity leaves the decision maker with significant discretion in making the disability determination. A child can be approved with a finding of “marked” limitations in two or more of the six “childhood domains”:
- Acquiring and using information;
- Attending and completing tasks;
- Interacting and relating with others;
- Moving about and manipulating objects;
- Caring for yourself; and
- Health and physical well-being.
Social Security Disability Benefits for Adults with Cerebral Palsy
When someone with cerebral palsy reaches age 18, Social Security will evaluate their case differently. There are two ways this could happen. If the new adult was already receiving SSI as a child, Social Security will conduct a review at age 18 to consider whether the child meets the adult disability standards. If the new adult’s parents had income and/or assets which prevented the receipt of SSI benefits prior to age 18, the new adult can file a claim upon reaching the age of majority (18). The parental income and assets will no longer be considered at that point and the new adult could then be financially eligible for SSI. If the new adult has a parent who is either retired, disabled, or deceased, the new adult could also assert a Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB) claim which could be worth more than an SSI benefit because it is based on the parent’s earnings history.
Either way, the disability standard will be the same. To be approved for disability, an adult must show that they meet one of Social Security’s listings or are unable to work on a regular basis. The adult listing for cerebral palsy is Listing 11.07 and it is the same as the childhood listing but adds two other possibilities for meeting it.
The individual could show a marked limitation in one of the “B criteria” that are identified in several listings (understanding, remembering, or applying information; interacting with others; concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and adapting or managing oneself) or the individual could show “significant interference in communication due to speech, hearing, or visual deficit.” Again, this language seems to leave the decision maker with a great deal of discretion in making a disability determination in a cerebral palsy case, seemingly reflecting an underlying policy conducive to cases of cerebral palsy being approved.
Can You Still Get Disability Benefits if You Don't Meet the Listing Criteria?
Even if the cerebral palsy does not meet the listing, an adult can be approved for disability with a finding that they cannot sustain any work on a regular basis. If someone with cerebral palsy can’t be on their feet more than half the day, this only leaves sedentary work, which is generally going to be more cognitively demanding than other work and involve use of the hands throughout the day. If the person also has substantial cognitive limitations or problems with the hands, an informed vocational expert will testify that there is not a significant number of jobs this person is capable of performing, and the judge should approve the disability claim.
Our Social Security Attorneys Are Here to Help
One more important note: If you or are considering filing a cerebral palsy disability claim for yourself or a loved one, don’t hesitate. SSI cases can only be paid back to the date of filing, so any delay only reduces what you may receive. If you are the parent of a young adult and can afford to care for them now, you still shouldn’t hesitate to help your child file a claim. If you are in this position, a CDB benefit is likely going to be much more valuable than an SSI benefit, but it requires a finding that the person became disabled by the age of 22. Contact our Social Security attorneys at any time, and it would be best to do so as soon as you can.