Children can receive Social Security disability benefits under both the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs. The rules and eligibility requirements for each program differ, and not all children will be eligible under both programs.
A child under the age of 18 may be eligible to receive SSI if he meets Social Security’s definition of disability. When a child applies for SSI, Social Security will look at the child’s and certain household members’ income and resources to determine whether the child meets the income and resource limits for SSI. However, not all of the household income and resources is counted.
When a child applies, he goes through an evaluation process that is similar to the process for adults who have applied for SSI. The main differences are that the listings for children are different than those for adults, and the evaluation process stops after the claims examiner determines whether the child meets or equals the listings. Unlike with adult applicants, Social Security does not look at whether a child can return to his past relevant work or any work in the national economy. Either a child meets or equals the listings and is approved, or he doesn’t and he is denied.
There are several conditions that may allow your child to receive SSI payments while Social Security is still making their decision. Those conditions include total blindness or deafness, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, severe intellectual disability, symptomatic HIV infection, and birth weight below 2 pounds, 10 ounces. If your child has one of these conditions, you should ask the local Social Security office to begin payments immediately.
When your child turns 18, Social Security will review their case using the adult disability guidelines. It is important to keep in mind that just because a child is approved for SSI does not mean they will be approved for it when they turn 18. Additionally, if your child was not eligible for SSI because the income of the family was too high, once the child turns 18 the household income is counted differently. Thus, at age 18, your child may become eligible even if their financial situation hasn’t really changed.
Disabled and non-disabled children under the age of 18, and sometimes 19, can receive dependents’ benefits if a parent is receiving Social Security retirement benefits. The child must be unmarried and under the age of 18, or be 18-19 years old and a full-time student in high school. If the child is disabled, he may also be able to continue receiving benefits once he turns 18 by applying as an adult disabled child.
Adults who were disabled before the age of 22 may be eligible to receive SSDI on their parents’ record as an “adult disabled child”. The parent must be deceased or receiving retirement or disability benefits for the adult child to apply. Unlike traditional SSDI, it is not necessary that the adult child has ever worked, because the adult child is eligible based on a parent’s Social Security earnings record.
The adult child—including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild, grandchild, or step grandchild—must meet the definition of disability for adults. In evaluating whether the adult child is disabled, the same rules apply as any other adult applicant.
Example: A father starts collecting his retirement benefits at age 62. He has a son who is 35 years old. The son has a severe intellectual disability, which was diagnosed when he was 4. The son has never worked. He can receive a SSDI benefit based on his father’s record because he meets the adult definition of disability, and was disabled before the age of 18.