Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurological disorder that affects movement, muscle tone and/or posture, and can impact a person’s ability to walk, speak or perform activities of daily living. The result of damage to the developing brain, it can occur before, during or shortly after birth. Although CP is not progressive, there is no cure. Instead, treatment and therapies seek to manage the symptoms and alleviate pain or discomfort caused by stiff muscles or deformations to bones that result from the abnormal muscle tone. If you are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity because of your cerebral palsy diagnosis, you may be entitled to social security disability (SSD) benefits.

Cerebral palsy and SSD benefits

Cerebral palsy ranges in severity from mild to severe. It can affect one or more limbs, may affect an individual’s ability to speak, or may be accompanied by cognitive impairments. Some people with CP may be able to walk independently, others may need assistive devices, such as walkers or canes, while others may use a wheelchair as their primary means of mobility.

Because there is no cure for CP, it automatically meets the Social Security Administration’s requirement that the disability last, or be expected to last, for at least 12 months. Yet having CP does not mean automatic approval for SSD benefits; that is because many people diagnosed with CP can work, with or without accommodations.

In order for your CP to be considered a disabling condition, your medical record must reflect a negative impact in at least one of the following areas:

  1. Motor function. At least two extremities must be affected, and it must create an extreme limitation in your ability to stand from a seated position, maintain balance once standing or walking, or using the arms (including fingers, wrists or shoulders) to initiate, sustain, or complete work-related activities, whether fine or gross motor tasks.
  2. Physical functioning. Limitations on your physical functioning must be marked. Although the SSA does not use a scale to evaluate limitations, a “marked limitation” would be a four on a zero to five scale, with zero being no limitations, and five being extreme. In addition to this limitation, you must also exhibit a marked limitation in the ability to:
    1. Understand, remember or apply information;
    2. Interact with others (an inability to communicate, whether orally or through other means);
    3. Concentrate, persist or maintain pace, or;
    4. Adapt or manage yourself.

If limitations to your physical function are not marked, you may still qualify based on this listing if you exhibit at least an extreme limitation in one of the four areas of mental function, or a marked limitation in at least two; in these cases, the SSA will review your application to determine if the CP meets or medically equals a mental disorder in Section 12 of the disability blue book.

3. Communication. The CP must significantly interfere with your ability to communicate, and can be due to speech, hearing or vision issues.  The SSA will find “significant interference” if signs such as aphasia, strabismus or sensorineural hearing loss seriously limit the ability to communicate on a sustained basis.

Medical documentation of cerebral palsy for SSD benefits

The SSA requires medical and non-medical evidence to help determine the severity of your CP and its impact on your ability to work. Because CP is generally diagnosed in children at age 2, you most likely have an extensive medical record that documents the diagnosis and the limitations it imposes on your ability to work and perform activities of daily living. Documentation submitted with your application should include:

  • Medical history;
  • Examination findings;
  • Relevant laboratory tests;
  • Imaging results, which may include X-rays, CT scans, MRIs or EEGs;
  • Treatment and your response, either positive or negative, to such treatment, and/or;
  • Non-medical evidence, including statements made by the applicant or others about the impairments, restrictions, daily activities and efforts to work.

Cerebral palsy resources

Because CP originates in childhood, many of the online resources target parents of young children newly diagnosed with the condition. However, many of these sites have pages dedicated within them to the issues faced by adults with CP.

United Cerebral Palsy advocates on behalf of, and provides support services for, people with a broad spectrum of disabilities, and not just CP. Their website provides information and resources on cerebral palsy, including an employment guide, housing tips, and links to local affiliate programs.

The Cerebral Palsy Foundation has a page titled “Adults with CP” that discusses functional issues at work, as well as other medical issues adults with CP face, including depression and premature aging.

If you have CP and are applying for Social Security Disability benefits and have been denied, or if this is a first time application, consider the Law Office of Neil H. Good for your representation. Call toll-free #(847) 577-4476 or complete this online form for a free case evaluation.