Is Your Child or Adult Child With Special Needs Eligible for Social Security Income - SSI?

What determines if a child (or adult child) with special needs, health impairments or disabilities qualifies for Social Security Income?

By Rick Smith

What types of disabilities are eligible for SSI?

It is important to note that disability for the purposes of SSI is not about health and diagnoses. It is to a large extent about degree of functional limitation. For a child, Social Security will decide whether the physical or mental condition results in long term functional limitations. For an adult 18 years and older, these limitations become focused on ability to work and earn an income.

Is my minor child eligible for SSI?

To meet Social Security's definition of disability for children, the child must have a physical or mental condition(s) that "very seriously limits his or her activities." Their disability must last at least 1 year (or result in death). Social Security takes into account aspects such as any serious limitations the disability creates in your child's daily activities and need for extra help such as special education or medical equipment. Your state agency will determine if your child has an eligible disability based on information you and others (school, doctors, etc.) submit.

Assuming that they are disabled for the purpose of Social Security, your income may be the determining factor. A portion of your income and the value of some big things you own is counted toward the required limits. A decision will ultimately be made as to whether your income is low enough to have your child receive benefits. There are lots of factors offsetting income and some big things, like your house, may not count. Other things, like your pleasure boat or expensive jewelry, may count as an asset toward qualifying.

Is my adult child eligible for SSI?

Once again, the first question is about disability. A condition that is disabling for a child may not be for an adult, according to the Social Security definition. The focus is on being able to earn money from gainful employment. If Social Security believes they can work -- even what we might consider an unattractive or menial job -- then they may decide your adult child is not disabled.

"Disability" under Social Security is based on your inability to work. We consider you disabled under Social Security rules if: You cannot do work that you did before; we decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

The income and asset assessments are next. If your adult child is 18 years old or older, their own income and assets are what count. The income limits for an adult are very low and so are the limits on what they own. Again, some things they may own, like a house or a car (even if they can't drive) may be excluded from the income/asset tests. But other things, like a savings account or mutual funds portfolio set up in their name will count. Again, the amounts they may earn and keep are generally very low. There are certain exceptions when going to school or learning a trade which raise the amount the working student with special needs is eligible to earn.

Rick Smith: Recently, my adult child was notified by Social Security of his eligibility for benefits based on his multiple disabilities. Before applying to Social Security, we found much detailed information but few summaries about the process in plain language. I write this synopsis as a Dad who navigated the process rather than with the legal authority of a lawyer. If you wish more detail or want additional verification, please consult a professional. Or you may wish to check into these recent books on Social Security.