What counts as a disability? (child)

Social Security defines disability differently, depending on a person's age.

Children (17 and younger) are considered disabled if:

Image of two rounded rectangles. The first rectangle contains the text 'They have one (or more)
physical or mental impairments that seriously limit their activities' beside icons of a human brain and person in a wheelchair. The second rectangle contains the text 'This impairment has lasted(or will last) for at least 12
months, or result in death' beside an icon of a calender.

  • An impairment is something about one's body or mind that is not working the way it should.
  • The impairment must be medically determinable.  This means that it must be diagnosed by a doctor or other professional.  In other words, Social Security doesn't just take your word for it. They'll ask for paperwork from your doctor. 
  • The impairment must cause marked and severe functional limitations. This means it affects your child's ability to reach developmental milestones, or to do age-appropriate activities like walking, talking, or playing.

How SSI decides if your child qualifies:

Social Security has something they call the sequential evaluation process.  They follow certain steps, in order, to see if someone's disability qualifies for SSI.

Image with the subject 'For children under 17 applying for SSI through their parent(s), SSI will review these things: The parents' current income and resources (if any). How severe the child's impairment is. Whether the 'impairment results in marked and severe functional limitations.''

For more detail, click on the links below to pages from the Social Security website. open in a new tab on your computer, tablet or mobile phone.)

Click the box below to learn more:

Check if your family member qualifies for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance)

Social Security also offers another program called SSDI, the Social Security Disability Insurance program. It is tied to the Social Security retirement program, but it's for people who are disabled before retirement age.

Your child may be able to get SSDI if one of their parents:

  • Is retired, deceased, OR disabled themselves and is collecting SSDI, and

  • Has worked and paid into the Social Security system for at least 10 years

If your child is 17 or younger:

  • They may collect benefits until they turn 18, or 19 if enrolled in school

If your child is 18 or older:

  • They may qualify for SSDI based on their own work record

  • They may qualify under your work record and get benefits for life. In this case, their disability must have started before age 22

Good news: if you apply for SSI for your family member, then Social Security will tell you if they can also get SSDI. Some people get a combination of both. 

Sources: Social Security, Jackins (2010), disabilitysecrets.org.


Sources: Social Security, Jackins (2010).