Benefits: Social Security Disability Standards for Children

Authored By: Legal Aid of North Carolina

Quick Facts


The Social Security Administration evaluates children (younger than 18 years of age) for disability purposes by looking at how they perform in different areas.

SSA uses the following three- step evaluation:

1. Is the child working? If yes, the claim is denied.

2. Does the child have a medical condition that is severe? If the answer is no, the claim is denied.

3. Does the medical condition meet the Listing of Impairments or result in functional limitations that are equivalent to the listings? If yes, the child is disabled.

The Listing of Impairments is a list of different medical conditions specifically described. To meet any of the listings, a child applying for disability must have a doctor’s opinion backed by medical tests and findings to indicate that the condition s/he suffers meets the specific listing. If a child meets these conditions, then s/he is disabled.

If a child’s condition does not meet the Listing he can still be disabled if the condition he suffers is functionally equivalent to the Listing. To make this determination SSA looks at the following:

A child is disabled if s/he has marked limitations in two of the following or an extreme limitation in one of the following:

1. Acquiring and Using Information

How well the child learns.

2. Attending and Completing Tasks

How well the child begins, carries through and finishes activities.

3. Interacting and Relating with Others

How well a child relates to others, cooperate with others, respond to criticism,

4. Moving About and Manipulating Objects

How the child moves his body and manipulates things. The Gross and fine motor skills of the child.

5. Caring for Yourself

How well the child takes care of his own body, possessions and living area.

6. Health and Physical Well- Being

The cumulative effect of the physical and mental condition, the treatment or therapies on the child’s functioning.


What is necessary to show the child’s functional capacity?

To evaluate the child’s ability to function, it is first necessary to have a doctor or other medical source establish the condition suffered by the child. Important to cases for children is the addition of the following to show the extent of the functional limitations:

  • Licensed or certified psychologist for mental retardation, learning disabilities, and borderline intellectual functioning.

  • Speech and language pathologist for speech and language problems.

To show the severity of the medical condition teachers, counselors, and lay sources (friends and family members) are acceptable.

How the child functions at school is very important to show that a child is disabled. School records should be requested. Records of the special education programs that the child attends should be provided to SSA. Any information to show that the child’s medical conditions limit attendance and participation in school activities should also be provided.


How SSA considers the evidence?

SSA must consider the amount of help a child requires. SSA looks at the following factors:

1. Extra Help

SSA considers any extra help the child requires to do activities that are appropriate for his age. SSA will determine how the child would function without the help.

2. Structured or Supportive Settings

Children with serious impairments may spend some or all their time in a structured setting.

4. Unusual Settings

Children may behave differently in unusual settings and behavior alone would not be relied to determine the severity of limitations.

5. Effects of Medications

Even if medications reduce the limitations SSA will consider the side effects that cause or contribute to the limitations.

6. Treatment

SSA will consider the frequency of therapy and whether therapy interferes with activities normal for children of that age without limitations.  



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Last Review and Update: Jun 26, 2012
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