Tips for Establishing Disability in Teens and Young Adults

By: Charles D. Hankey

The hardest age groups to establish disability for are teenagers and young adults between the ages of 14 and 25. They don’t really fit well with Social Security’s criteria for children, or adults.

The child standards, applied up to age 17, look at ability to function in six different domains. These are acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with others, moving about and manipulating objects, caring for oneself, and health and physical well-being. Disability is established if the child has serious limitations in two of these domains or an extreme limitation in one.

The adult disability standard, applied to those 18 or older, asks if one is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (work) because of conditions, and if those conditions have lasted or will last at least one year or result in death.

In cases of teenagers and young adults however, there must be a blend of the childhood and adulthood standards. In both, it is important to have information from an acceptable medical source. In child cases acceptable sources can include school psychologists in cases involving mental retardation, learning disabilities, and borderline intellectual functioning; and qualified speech and language pathologists. Evidence can also be obtained from therapists, counselors, and teachers. Therefore school records are very important in these cases, especially if the child or young adult has IEPs.

In cases of young adults, information can also be obtained from social workers or social welfare agencies; observations of people who know you such as family, friends, neighbors, and clergy; medical practitioners who aren’t doctors, such as chiropractors, physicians assistants, and nurse practitioners, therapists, and educational personnel (school records again).

A young adult’s inability to do things such as understand, remember, and carry out instructions,; communicate appropriately; pay attention for long periods of time; work with authority figures; interact with others; regulate mood and behavior; and engage in physical activities, when they were in school is considered evidence that the cannot do those things in a job.

If a student is in special education, or gets some sort of special help Social Security must consider how the child would perform without that special help. Similarly, if an adult is in a structured work environment where their earnings are subsidized due to their disability Social Security cannot count the extra earnings from such employment. Social Security must consider their ability to function outside such a structured environment.

Social Security must also consider how both teenagers and young adults react to stress, the effects of medications and treatments, and the results of failure to follow prescribed treatment.

When a child who had been receiving disability turns 18, Social Security must reevaluate their case to see if they are still disabled. Often this results in their benefits being taken away. They must then re-apply and be evaluated under the adult standards. If you have been cut off after turning 18, contact our office for help.