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On September 1, 2013, the Social Security Administration changed the term “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability.” The term mental retardation has a negative connotation that reportedly led to misunderstandings about what people with an intellectual disability faced and the implications of the disorder. While a verbiage change may seem simple, the conversation raises awareness about intellectual disabilities and the real challenges that go along with them.

What Is the Social Security Disability Standard for Intellectual Disability?

Social Security disability benefits are available to people with significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning with deficits in adaptive functioning that initially manifested during the developmental period, or before age 22. The required level of severity is met when the requirements in one of four categories are satisfied:

  1. Mental incapacity evidenced by dependence upon others for personal needs and the inability to follow directions. This means that the person relies on others for things such as toileting, eating, dressing, or bathing and that the use of standardized measures of intellectual functioning would be precluded because of the person’s inability to follow directions.
  2. A valid verbal, performance, or full-scale IQ score of 59 or less.
  3. A valid verbal, performance, or full-scale IQ score of 60-70 and a physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and significant work-related limitation of function.
  4. A valid verbal, performance, or full-scale IQ score of 60-70, resulting in at least two of the following: a marked restriction in activities of daily living, a marked difficulty in maintaining social functioning, a marked difficulty in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace, or repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.

It may be difficult to prove that the intellectual disability existed before the age of 22. Many people do not take formal intelligence quotient tests during childhood. Others may have been tested but have no idea how or where to locate those records. Fortunately, this isn’t a deterrent to receiving benefits.

Scores from intelligence quotient testing performed after a person turned 22 may be used to establish the person’s intelligence quotient prior to the age of 22. Intelligence quotient scores typically remain stable throughout a person’s life, unless the person suffers traumatic brain trauma. Therefore, without evidence of a change to a person’s intellectual functioning, people may rely on current scores to establish their intelligence quotient prior to the age of 22.

Are You Advocating for a Loved One With an Intellectual Disability?

A compassionate and skilled Dallas disability attorney can help you navigate the often confusing process of filing for Social Security disability benefits. Please request your free copy of our book, Social Security Disability: What You Need to Know, and call us at 800-800-6353 for more information today.

Morgan & Weisbrod LLP

by Paul B. Burkhalter
Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.


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