Social Security for Disabled Children: Benefits You May Not Know About

JAN. 11, 2016

By Timothy Cuddigan

Ellen struggles with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, and her parents worry about her future. (Ellen is a real person and gave us permission to tell her story here, but to protect her privacy we are not using her real name.)

Ellen, 24, has had multiple hospitalizations for suicide attempts since she was a teenager. She takes medications, and sees a psychiatrist and a therapist on a regular basis.

She wants to work, but her symptoms cause employment problems. As a result, she has worked at several jobs, but has never earned much money. Ellen is not married and lives with her parents, and her personal life is chaotic. Her parents worry about what will happen to her when they are no longer around, and they especially worry about her medical needs.

When Ellen’s father retired and applied for Social Security retirement benefits, he indicated that he had a child who had become disabled before she was 22 years old. Ellen applied for benefits as a Disabled Adult Child (DAC) on her father’s earnings record. Ellen’s lawyer gathered medical and school records, obtained doctors’ reports about her condition and her limitations, and presented her testimony to an administrative law judge at a hearing.

The judge awarded her DAC benefits because Ellen was able to prove that she is disabled, her disability began before the age of 22, she has not been able to work successfully and she is unmarried. Her parents are relieved to have a more secure future in place for their daughter with a modest monthly check and Medicare benefits. Ellen hopes she will be able to work when her conditions are under better control.

Ellen met the requirements for one of three categories of children who may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Unfortunately, I have discovered that not everyone knows about these opportunities to help their children receive additional monetary support. There are in fact three different ways your child can receive support, which are detailed below.

Adults Disabled Since Childhood

To be eligible for disability benefits as a disabled adult child, your child must be older than 18 and have a “qualifying disability” that began prior to reaching age 22. To be a “qualifying disability” under Social Security rules, the disability must meet all the criteria of a condition that is included in the Social Security Administration’s “Listing of Impairments” (commonly referred to as the “Blue Book”) or be equivalent in severity to a listed impairment, or an individual must be unable to perform any substantial work for pay because of his or her limitations. The disability must have lasted at least 12 months, be expected to last for at least 12 months, or could result in death.

As a parent, you must also be receiving Social Security benefits due to retirement or disability or receiving benefits from your spouse who has died (survivor’s benefits). Your child must apply for Disabled Adult Children (DAC) benefits on a parent’s account. DAC benefits are also referred to as Childhood Disability Benefits by the Social Security Administration.

If your adult child qualifies for Social Security disability, he or she can receive benefits as long as he or she remains unmarried. The benefits will end if he or she marries, unless he or she marries another disabled adult child.  

Low-Income Disabled Children

Disabled children whose families have low income may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Childhood SSI is a program designed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to help limited-resource families get the help they need for their disabled children.

To qualify in this category, your child must be under the age of 18 and be either blind or disabled. The disability, according to Social Security requirements, must result in “marked and severe functional limitations or can be expected to result in death and has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” Children may be eligible for SSI disability benefits beginning as early as the day they are born up to the age of 18; there is no minimum age requirement.

Winning a disability case is never easy, and winning SSI disability benefits for a child is no different. The first set of hurdles to overcome involves limits on income and resources. The SSA looks at all income sources available to the child, including parents’ income and stepparents’ income if the child is living with a stepparent and one natural or adoptive parent.

The limit on parental assets is $2,000 for a single parent and $3,000 if there are two married parents. You will be required to present proof of income and resources to the SSA. In terms of income, SSA has a chart ( to help determine payable amounts. The formula is complicated and involves both earned and unearned income limits; because of this, the simplest solution is to call Social Security.

The second group of hurdles is proving the child’s physical or mental disability. SSA has a collection of medical conditions (the “Listing of Impairments” or “Blue Book” mentioned previously) that generally are severe enough to warrant the immediate awarding of benefits, so long as he or she meets specific criteria. However, proving that your child meets the criteria in the listings is complicated and seldom straightforward.

If your child is approved for SSI benefits, the case will be reviewed occasionally to make sure that the child is still financially eligible and still has a disability. Once your child turns 18, his or her case will be reviewed again and assessed under adult disability criteria as part of an SSA process called “redetermination,” which has its own rules and complications.

Social Security Auxiliary Benefits Many disabled workers who apply for Social Security Disability benefits believe that they are the only ones in their families eligible to receive benefits from SSA. This is not necessarily the case. In some cases, a disabled worker’s family members, such as their dependent children—whether disabled or not—may be able to receive benefits, as well.

The benefits that are paid to family members are referred to as auxiliary benefits. If a parent, adoptive parent or stepparent is receiving Social Security retirement or SSDI benefits (or if a parent is deceased and was entitled to one of these benefits before he or she died), the child may be eligible to receive auxiliary benefits. Family members of those who receive SSI are not eligible for auxiliary benefits from the Social Security Administration.

To qualify for auxiliary benefits, your child must be unmarried and under the age of 18. However, if your child is a full-time student enrolled at an elementary or secondary school, he or she can continue to receive benefits until either graduation or two months after turning 19, whichever comes first. Under auxiliary benefits, a child is eligible for up to 50% of the parent’s monthly benefit, subject to a family maximum.

Qualifying for SSA children’s benefits can be a complex process with many rules and limitations. Although you are able to apply for SSDI benefits online, in order to apply for SSI or DAC benefits you need to call Social Security at 800-772-1213 to schedule a phone appointment. You may wish to consult with a Social Security disability benefits attorney or other professional to help guide you through the process.

Timothy Cuddigan has exclusively practiced disability law since 1994. He is the immediate past-president of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) and a past president of NAMI Nebraska. He is recognized nationally for his knowledge of Social Security disability law and regularly speaks to regional and national audiences on this subject.


AUG, 28, 2018 07:50:10 PM
I receive ssdi but my 7 year old son was just diagnosis with Autism can he get his own disability benefits?

AUG, 27, 2018 07:41:38 AM
My daughter is 31 and have had 25 jobs. Sh is bipolat but does not educate herself. MD wrote depression on the bill she paid.She now says she is depressed and not bipolar.
She has my grandson 5 years old that I feel she neglects. Grandma supported her for year no she is living with Granma. She refuses to let me help get the benefit and this causes family more stress.

AUG, 08, 2018 07:24:27 PM
Doreen Soucy
I have a 36 yr old adult disabled daughter (recieved a diagnoises in 2001 & eye surgery in 2/2002)& finally got her first SSI check in 2009 with back pay with help from a lawyer. Now that I'll be having a Cochlear Implant at age 62 & recieving SSD ( need double) doesn't my daughter also qualifies for benefits from my soc sec disability income?

JUL, 02, 2018 09:57:59 AM
Jennifer Stephens
I am the single, low-income parent to my 15 year old daughter. She has Ultra-Rapid Cycling, Bipolar Disorder with Depression. I am in the process of trying to determine if receiving SS benefits would hurt her chances of being accepted into the college of her choice. While benefits would help keep her stable, I have to know if there are negative consequences. NAMI is likely to be the best source of information and advisement.

APR, 06, 2018 01:31:51 PM
Lisa Lewis
After spending four months in residential and evaluation treatment centers in Ohio and New England, My almost 18 year old adopted son has recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia. We’ve been dealing with his ADHD, bipolar, depression,anxiety, and addiction problems for well over 9 years now and the costs for his care continue to increase. What do I apply for to get him help with all of his medications, therapies, private schooling, etc. if the funds run out or something should happen to his father and I ?

APR, 03, 2018 03:22:51 PM
My adopted son has been receiving therapy and medication for his depression,anxiety,transgender dysphoria,ADHD,and addiction problems since 2006. We’ve had hospiiazations due to self harm and now at almost 18 yrs. old,has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. After months in residential treatment Centers outside our state, he’s finally back home and doing well. I’m not sure which assistance we need to apply for. SSDI? SSI?Medicare? I can’t work because I need to take him to all his therapy sessions for the time being and My fear is if something were to happen to his father or I ,how would he afford to keep going with his therapy and all his medications?

JAN, 08, 2018 08:40:46 AM
Anonymous in md
There is a woman who uses her son as her meal ticket.She refuses to get a job and says she is looking for a job.But we know that isn't true cause income will lower her payments since she has no other income coming. Found out someone wanted to adopt her son.But of course she said no cause we all know money is the factor here!Bad mother living in Hagerstown,Md.Donald Trump nedds to correct the issues here too!

NOV, 29, 2017 01:44:11 PM
I was working for this woman who's son had CP & she was using his government issued funds to pay his caregiver to clean her house to get her hair done. She even washed his mouth out with soap literally. Who can I report this to?

NOV, 05, 2017 11:30:18 PM
Does a child qualify for any benefit if she has a mentally ill father diagnosed with schizophrenia?

OCT, 25, 2017 11:21:52 AM
Marcia Perkins

OCT, 25, 2017 11:21:03 AM
Marcia Perkins
Is there a statute of limitations on applying for Disabled Adult Child(DAC) Benefits and / or Social Security Auxiliary Benefits. Do to fact Child was disabled since age 5 with "qualifying disability"-Lived with both Parents till their Death (1999 Father-2001 Mother). Comment & Question

SEP, 07, 2017 07:04:48 PM
MY GRANDSON WHO IS ONLY TWO YEARS OLD AND GOING THRU ALOT OF SURGERIES(he was born CDH). anyway my daughter and the worthless father who wont work live off of my grandsons check every month but the father is using that money for his drug addiction, so after the check is gone they beg, steal , or say to borrow money for them selves . I have emailed or did the on- line fraud to the SSI administration but nothing has been done about it! What do I do next?

SEP, 07, 2017 07:04:31 PM
MY GRANDSON WHO IS ONLY TWO YEARS OLD AND GOING THRU ALOT OF SURGERIES(he was born CDH). anyway my daughter and the worthless father who wont work live off of my grandsons check every month but the father is using that money for his drug addiction, so after the check is gone they beg, steal , or say to borrow money for them selves . I have emailed or did the on- line fraud to the SSI administration but nothing has been done about it! What do I do next?

AUG, 11, 2017 12:16:02 PM
Evelyn heintz
My 20 month receives SSI I'm not able to work because of her disabilities so the only income we have is her check which is $735 a month are there any other programs that will pay me because I have to stay home and cannot work because of her disabilities?

SEP, 19, 2016 04:12:21 PM
I am glad that Ellen was able to get some kind of assistance. But what happens if she has a child of her own? Is there any sort of program to help her with that after her parents are gone?

JUL, 27, 2016 05:22:54 PM
Janet Dahlem
My question is what do I need to do to get my adult 34 year old mentally ill son on my social security? I am currently working and he is receiving disability income. He was first hospitalized when he was in 6th grade. I need advise on how to go about doing this. Thank you, Janet

FEB, 09, 2016 10:30:08 PM
A. Goetz
Our son is in foster care. He most probably is claiming SSDI. He does not seem disabled to us. Should we report this?

JAN, 28, 2016 08:45:50 PM
Lori Torello
My son has received SSI since he was 18 and SSDI. The majority of his monies is from SSI. I am wondering if he is eligible to receive more money from SSDI. I know if your money comes from SSDI, you are more likely to earn more money receiving this money. Please let me know the stipulations for earning money.

JAN, 28, 2016 10:58:44 AM
This article is a bit misleading. You can have a 19 year old child living with you, you can charge them rent, and you can choose to not claim them as a dependent on your taxes. If they have no assets or income, in addition to their disability, they can get SSI. Using an advocate, it's possible to get it the first time you apply. In Minnesota, contact the Disability Linkage Line for advice. Read what you can find through searching the internet and you may be able to get the maximum payment to cover rent and food. It's a huge help! Too bad it's so difficult to do. A disabled person probably can't do it without an advocate or guardian doing it for/with them.

JAN, 28, 2016 10:07:48 AM
Mary Kathryn Castor
I would recommend that you reapply for SSDI and go through all of the appeal processes if your claim is denied. It's my understanding that Social Security primarily looks at your disability at the time of your application and need information about current status; such as current mental health treatment, changes in the course of your conditions (mental and/or physical) and impact on your daily functioning. I would advise you to review the disability categories at as there are numerous publications regarding disability matters. Continue to advocate for yourself.

JAN, 12, 2016 05:22:02 PM
Mary C
diagnosed bipolar 34 yrs ago. Not allowed SSDI. Now 62 & on SS $566/ mo. Can I Now reapply for SSDI? Previously hadn't a lawyer and gave up without perseverence

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