Social Security Administration Quietly Changes Definitions

Without fanfare, the Social Security Administration recently updated its disability definitions. The agency is now using the phrase "intellectual disability" in place of "mentally retarded" and similar wording.

The change appears in the SSA's Revised Medical Criteria for Mental Disorders in the Federal Registry.

The SSA now uses the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) definition of intellectual disability. The change in terminology means applications for Social Security Disability benefits will be evaluated based on current understandings of intellectual disabilities.

More Appropriate Evaluations

In a statement on the change, the AAIDD said, "Applications will be evaluated more appropriately and people with intellectual and other disabilities will receive the benefits to which they are entitled."

The AAIDD says intellectual disability is, in part, determined by IQ tests. Those tests alone do not determine whether or not a person has an intellectual disability, however. Other tests determine limits in adaptive behavior in three skill areas:

  • Conceptual skills: these skills involve language and literacy; concepts of time, numbers and money; self-direction
  • Social skills: interpersonal abilities, responsibility, the ability to obey rules and laws, social problem solving
  • Practical skills: personal care, work skills, ability to maintain routines and schedules, ability to travel and use transportation, health care

Currently, about 921,000 Americans receive Social Security benefits as disabled adult children. About half of them are diagnosed with an intellectual disability such as Down syndrome.

Making the Difference

SSDI benefits are often the difference between a life of hardship and a life of relative self-sufficiency. And disability benefits are often just as important to caregivers providing help and love to SSDI recipients.

If you're asking yourself how to apply for Social Security Disability, contact a lawyer who can guide you through the application or appeals process. A Social Security Disability attorney understands not only the law, but the ever-changing definitions and SSDI requirements.