Cerebral Palsy: Know Your Child's Legal Rights

My name is Joseph Morrison. I'm an attorney in Dallas, Texas. My younger brother has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and I am well aware of the challenges posed by the disorder. I have been asked to contribute articles to this site and I am honored to do so. My goal is to help parents of children with Cerebral Palsy in understanding their legal rights.

In the coming months we will touch on topics such as Individual Education Plans (to ensure your child receives an appropriate public education) and Cerebral Palsy caused by medical negligence (to ensure you contact an attorney if your child may be entitled to monetary compensation).

For our first discussion I would like to assist members of the site who have questions regarding Social Security Disability Benefits. I'm going to provide some basic disability information and offer some comments on Cerebral Palsy in the context of the disability process. If any of you have additional questions, I invite you to send me an email or to call our Social Security Department. Our firm's phone number is (800) 989-9999 and my email address is jmorrison@kraftlaw.com. We have several people who used to work for the Social Security Administration on staff and we always try to help people in any way that we can.

I. Information About Our Firm

I'd like to provide some quick information about our firm. Robert Kraft, the firm's founder, has practiced law in Dallas since 1971. He is a former Director, and a current Director Emeritus, of the Dallas Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Kraft is also a Sustaining Member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives. The Managing attorney in our Social Security department, Tommy Davis, is a former U.S. Marine and has represented Social Security Disability claimants in several thousand hearings before Administrative Law Judges. Our firm primarily handles Personal Injury cases, Social Security Disability claims, and Immigration cases. Feel free to visit our website at www.KraftLaw.com to learn more about our firm and our team members.

II. Social Security Administration Programs

The Social Security Administration directs two programs that pay disabled citizens. One is SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and the other is "regular" Social Security, sometimes referred to as SSDI, SSD, or DIB.

The regular disability program pays a claimant based on the money paid into Social Security during his or her work life. The amount of benefits is determined by how much has been paid in, divided by the years of life expectancy. Payments may also be made to a spouse and children. This program is essentially an insurance program. If you are approved for regular disability you also receive Medicare benefits.

The SSI program is an entitlement paid to people who: have no work history, have worked but did not pay into the system, or have worked but did not pay into the system 20 out of the last 40 quarters. There are asset limitations and household income limitations for eligibility. SSI is essentially a welfare program. If you are approved for SSI you also receive Medicaid benefits. Disabled children may receive SSI benefits. However, for children to receive SSI benefits the parents' income must be below certain levels. A full discussion of income as it relates to eligibility is beyond the scope of this article. If you have low income and are a parent of a disabled child you should contact the Social Security Administration to determine if your child may be eligible for SSI benefits.

III. SSI Benefits for Children with Cerebral Palsy

SSI benefits are available to children under the age of 18 who have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. A child with Cerebral Palsy must either meet Listing 111.07 of the Social Security Regulations or must medically or functionally equal Listing 111.07.

Listing 111.07 requires motor dysfunction (persistent disorganization or deficit of motor function for age involving two extremities, which interferes with age-appropriate major daily activities and results in disruption of fine and gross movements or with gait and station). A child with Cerebral Palsy may also meet the Listing if he or she has less severe motor dysfunction and one of the following: (1) an IQ of 70 or less; (2) a seizure disorder (with at least one major motor seizure in the year prior to application); (3) a significant interference with communication due to speech, hearing, or visual defect; or (4) a significant emotional disorder.

In the vast majority of claims, the question will be whether the child functionally equals the Listing. To functionally equal Listing 111.07, a child claimant must have marked limitations in two "domains" or extreme limitations in one "domain." The domains are: (1) Acquiring and using information, (2) Attending and completing tasks, (3) Interacting and relating with others, (4) Moving about and manipulating objects, (5) Caring for self, and (6) Health and physical well-being. In each domain your child will be compared to other children the same age. A "marked" limitation is one that interferes seriously with your child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. (This will generally mean that your child's functioning is at least two but no more than three standard deviations from the mean.) An "extreme" limitation is one that interferes very seriously with your child's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. (This will generally mean your child's functioning is at least three deviations below the mean.)

IV. General Advice

For your child to be approved for SSI benefits it will be necessary to for you to provide the Social Security Administration with all of his or her relevant medial records. In addition, school records (and school testing) demonstrating deficiency in the "domains" described above should be submitted.

It is very important to have your child's teacher (if the child is of school age) write a letter demonstrating your child's deficiencies and level of functioning compared to his or her peers. A similar letter from your child's doctor is also extremely important.

Most children who "meet" Listing 111.07 described above will be approved if proper records are submitted. In the majority of cases, however, the question will be whether your child functionally equals a Listing which is a more complicated process.

I suggest parents (with low income) of a child with cerebral palsy who is deficient in several areas compared to children his or her same age contact the Social Security Administration to determine if the child is eligible for SSI benefits. I would further suggest that parents retain an attorney with knowledge of the "domains" of functioning to assist them with their child's claim for benefits.