A child under age 18 may be disabled, but we don't need to consider the child's disability when deciding if he or she qualifies for benefits as your dependent. The child's benefits normally stop at age 18 unless he or she is a full-time student in an elementary or high school (benefits can continue until age 19) or is disabled.

For a child with a disability to receive benefits on your record after age 18, the following rules apply:

  • The disabling impairment must have started before age 22, and;
  • He or she must meet the definition of disability for adults.

Adults Disabled Before Age 22

An adult disabled before age 22 may be eligible for child's benefits if a parent is deceased or starts receiving retirement or disability benefits. We consider this a "child's" benefit because it is paid on a parent's Social Security earnings record.

The "adult child"—including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild, grandchild, or step grandchild—must be unmarried, age 18 or older, and have a disability that started before age 22.

Example: A worker starts collecting Social Security retirement benefits at age 62. He has a 38-year old son who has had cerebral palsy since birth. The son will start collecting a disabled "child's" benefit on his father's Social Security record.

What if the adult child never worked?

It is not necessary that the adult child ever worked. Benefits are paid based on the parent's earnings record.

What if the adult child is currently working?

An adult child must not have substantial earnings. The amount of earnings we consider "substantial" increases each year. In 2014, this means working and earning more than $1,070 a month.

Certain expenses the adult child incurs in order to work may be excluded from these earnings. For more information about work and disability, refer to Working While Disabled--How We Can Help.

What if the adult child is already receiving SSI benefits?

An adult child already receiving SSI benefits should still check to see if benefits may be payable on a parent's earnings record. Higher benefits might be payable, and entitlement to Medicare may be possible.

What if the adult child is already receiving disability benefits on his or her own record?

An adult child already receiving disability benefits should still check to see if benefits may be payable on a parent's earnings record.

It is possible for an individual disabled since childhood to attain insured status on his or her own record and be entitled to higher benefits on a parent's record.

What if the parent never worked?

No benefits would be payable on the record of a parent who never worked.

Can an application be completed online for disabled adult child's benefits?

At this time you cannot apply for disabled adult child's benefits online. If you wish to file for benefits, contact Social Security immediately at 1-800-772-1213 to request an appointment. (If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call our TTY number 1-800-325-0778.) If you delay, some potential benefits could be lost.

You can speed up the application process if you complete an Adult Disability Report and have it available at the time of your appointment.

How do we decide if an adult "child" is disabled for SSDI benefits?

If a child is age 18 or older, we will evaluate his or her disability the same way we would evaluate the disability for any adult. We send the application to the Disability Determination Services in your state that completes the disability decision for us.

For detailed information about how we evaluate disability for adults, see Disability Benefits (Publication No. 05-10029).

What happens if the adult child gets married?

If he or she receives benefits as an adult disabled since childhood, the benefits generally end if he or she gets married. However, some marriages (for example, to another adult disabled child) are considered protected.

The rules vary depending on the situation. Contact a Social Security representative at 1-800-772-1213 (If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call TTY number 1-800-325-0778) to find out if the benefits can continue.

Let's look at the other requirements: