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Can Children Collect Social Security Disability Benefits?

Families with children who become disabled prior to age 18 with severe mental and physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, autism, or mental retardation, may be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) and/or Social Security Income Benefits (SSI) on behalf of that child. To qualify for disability benefits, your child’s disability must be so severe that he or she suffers “marked and severe” functional limitations.

SSDI Benefits

A child over the age of 18 who becomes disabled is evaluated under the same standards as an adult; that is, in addition to severity, his or her disability must last or be expected to last at least 12 months or must be expected to result in the child's death and the child cannot be able to do any substantial work.

You may know that if you retire, become disabled, or die, all of your children who are under age 18 are eligible for Social Security benefits until they reach age 18. However, it is also true that if one of your children became disabled before the age of 22, he or she would continue to qualify for SSDI benefits as long as he or she was unable to work. A disabled adult who became disabled prior to age 22 receives a “child’s” benefit because these benefits are paid based on his or her parents’ earning record.

For your disabled child to be eligible for SSDI benefits, your child must meet the test for disability with regard to his or her condition. Your child’s condition will be evaluated in the same manner that an adult’s disability is evaluated. Additionally, either you or your spouse must be receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or your spouse must have died and have worked long enough under Social Security to qualify for benefits. If your adult child satisfies these requirements, he or she does not need to have worked to be eligible for SSDI benefits.

SSI Benefits

SSI benefits are based on need rather than your work record. If you have a disabled child and your resources and income are limited, you may apply for assistance under SSI as well. Once approved, SSI payments will continue as long as your child is disabled and has limited means. It is possible to receive aid from both SSDI and from SSI. However, your SSI benefit, being based on need, decreases depending on the amount of your other benefits.

In order to obtain SSI benefits for a disabled child, the Social Security Administration (SSA) asks you to complete both an Application for Supplemental Security Income and a Child Disability Report. Although you can complete the Child Disability Report online, the SSA requires that you schedule an appointment to complete the SSI application. It is a good idea to contact the SSA to find out whether you and your family meet the income and resources test to receive SSI benefits. If you qualify, then further information regarding your application and a worksheet that details the type of information that will be requested by the SSA can be found in the “Child Disability Starter Kit” available from the SSA.