Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of nervous system problems that can affect movement, speech, hearing, seeing, and thought. Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the developing brain, usually during pregnancy, labor, or soon after birth. The damage can be caused by infection, oxygen deprivation, toxins, or head trauma.
This article discusses disability benefits for children with cerebral palsy. The rules are different for adults (anyone over 18). If you need to apply for SSI or SSDI as an adult with cerebral palsy, see our article on disability benefits for adults with cerebral palsy.
Impairments Caused by Cerebral Palsy
Impairments caused by cerebral palsy can include stiff muscles, muscle weakness, unusual gait, difficulties chewing, talking, hearing, or seeing, and seizures. Cerebral palsy can have mild effects on movement and intelligence or it can have extremely disruptive effects on a child’s activities, resulting in the inability to walk, epilepsy, and/or mental retardation. CP is usually not diagnosed until the child is one or two years old.
Children who suffer serious impairments from cerebral palsy may be medically eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if the child’s cerebral palsy seriously limits major activities like walking, using his or hands effectively, or communicating. To be financially eligible for SSI, the child and his or her parents (or stepparents) cannot make over the SSI income limits or own too many assets (not counting a house).
Qualifying for Cerebral Palsy Under the Children's Listing
Mild cerebral palsy will not qualify for disability benefits. The SSA sets out what’s required to get disability benefits for a child with cerebral palsy in listing 111.07. To qualify for SSI, your child must have either severe or moderate motor dysfunction (problems with movement) that meets the following requirements:
Severe motor dysfunction. Your child must have severe movement problems that hinder walking, standing, or using their hands. In SSA terms, your child’s problems must interfere with age-appropriate daily activities because of one of the following:
- persistent lack of coordination of two extremities that disrupts your child's walking and standing, or
- lack of coordination of two extremities that disrupts fine motor movements and large muscle (gross) movements.
If your child requires crutches, braces, or a walker, or can’t walk independently for a long enough distance needed to carry out age-appropriate activities of daily living, he or she should qualify under this listing. If your child can move around the home well enough without support, but cannot travel to school without a good deal of assistance, this requirement should be fulfilled and your child should be approved for benefits.
For children who are too young to be expected to walk or stand independently, their ability to perform comparable age-appropriate activities with the lower extremities is assessed. If your child’s overall motor development is typical of children half of the child’s chronological age, your child should meet this standard.
The SSA defines the disruption of fine or gross motor movements as not being able to reach, push, pull, and grasp well enough to be able to carry out age-appropriate activities. For children who are too young to be expected to walk independently, the SSA compares the child’s skills and performance to other children of the same age. If your child’s upper extremity capability is typical of children half of the child’s chronological age, your child should meet this standard.
Moderate motor dysfunction. If your child’s motor problems are not severe enough to meet the definition above, your child must have more than slight movement problems along with one of the following:
- an IQ of 70 or less
- a seizure disorder, with at least one major motor seizure in the past year
- a speech, hearing, or eyesight defect that significantly interferes with communication (for instance, markedly poor articulation or stuttering, more than mild hearing loss, or a best-corrected visual acuity worse than 20/50), or
- a significant emotional or mental disorder, diagnosed through a mental status examination, such depression or marked attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
If your child is an infant with cerebral palsy, it may be difficult to tell if he or she meets the standards above. You can refer to the SSA’s listing for emotional disorders of newborns and younger infants to see what the SSA considers a delay in normal social interaction or communication that might constitute an emotional or motor disorder.
Applying for Disability Benefits for Cerebral Palsy
Call the SSA at 800-772-1213 to set up an appointment to submit an application for SSI through your local SSA office. After you submit all the necessary financial information to the SSA, a claims examiner and medical consultant will request your child’s medical records and consider your child’s claim to make a decision on whether your child is entitled to SSI disability benefits. It can take three to five months for the SSA to determine whether your child is eligible for disability benefits.
Presumptive Disability Payments
Knowing that babies and children diagnosed with cerebral palsy often need financial help right away, the SSA grants immediate SSI benefits to children who are likely to be found medically eligible for benefits. If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and has severe difficulty speaking, coordinating hand and arm movements, or walking without braces, your child probably qualifies for these immediate “presumptive disability” benefits. If your child is an infant at an age not expected to speak or walk, his motor and communicative development will be assessed based on what is appropriate for that age. For more information, see our article on presumptive disability benefits.