Mental Retardation Can be a Disabling Medical Condition

by Editorial Board on August 3, 2010 · 0 comments

in The Listings (Step 3),Mental Conditions

The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a listing that describes the impairments that the SSA considers severe enough to qualify someone for disability benefits. This list is known as the Blue Book, and mental retardation is among the impairments listed. The SSA provides specific criteria to help you determine whether the mental retardation of an adult or child meets their definition of a disabling medical condition: a condition that renders a person incapable of work and is expected to last one year or more, or result in death.

The Blue Book defines mental retardation in adults as below average intellectual functioning beginning before the age of 22. If you wish to apply for disability benefits due to a decrease in intellectual functioning that occurred after the age of 22, you would want to see the criteria listed under “organic mental disorder,” rather than mental retardation. In order for mental retardation to qualify as a disabling medical condition, a person must have an IQ of 70 or below. An IQ of 59 or below is itself severe enough to qualify as mental retardation; if IQ is between 60 and 70, additional conditions must be met as well. In cases where someone is unable to follow directions well enough to have their IQ evaluated, that person meets the criteria for severe mental retardation if they are dependent on others for basic personal needs such as dressing and eating. The criteria is the same for children, with additional ways to qualify based on lack of age-appropriate abilities.

Claims for disability benefits based on a mental disorder are often denied at first, but they can still be worth pursuing. Mental retardation has the advantage of being one of the easier mental disorders to prove, as a valid IQ test provides an objective measure of severity. Even if your claim is initially denied, if you have comprehensive medical records you have a good chance of being awarded Social Security benefits at a disability hearing. Often the most difficult part is proving that the onset of mental retardation occurred before the age of 22. The best evidence would be an IQ test taken at a young age, but records of special education classes or learning disabilities can also help establish your case. If you can’t prove the age of onset, be sure to check the other entries in the Blue Book under “mental disorders” to see if another mental condition is a better fit.

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