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Is Cerebral Palsy a Disability? How CP Can Qualify for Benefits

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
April 19, 2024  ·  4 min read
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Atticus offers free, high-quality disability advice for Americans who can't work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience, and have helped over 10,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.

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If your cerebral palsy prevents you from being able to work, it is possible to get disability benefits. Cerebral palsy affects an estimated 1 million people in the U.S., and it's among the most common childhood disabilities.

To find out whether your cerebral palsy meets SSA requirements and for advice on navigating the often challenging process of applying for disability, read on.

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is technically a group of neurological conditions caused by damage to or irregular development of brain areas controlling muscle movement, leading to muscle control and posture issues. The Social Security Administration lists cerebral palsy in its Blue Book, its resource on qualifying conditions for disability benefits, under neurological disorders (Section 11.07).

4 types of cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is classified based on the movement disorder. There are four main types of CP:

  1. Spastic cerebral palsy: The most common type of cerebral palsy, spastic cerebral palsy, is characterized by stiff muscles and awkward movements.

  2. Dyskinetic cerebral palsy: Individuals with dyskinetic cerebral palsy, also known as athetoid cerebral palsy, have issues with muscle control. This can lead to slow and writhing or jerky movements and difficulty sitting up or walking.

  3. Ataxic cerebral palsy: Ataxic cerebral palsy impacts balance and coordination. This can lead to instability while walking and difficulties with movements that require speed or precision, like writing.

  4. Mixed types: Some people may have symptoms that don't align with just one type of cerebral palsy, in which case they may be diagnosed with mixed cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy symptoms

CP symptoms generally appear in early childhood. Symptoms can vary in type and severity and may include:

  • Lack of muscle coordination and balance

  • Stiff or tight muscles

  • Exaggerated reflexes

  • Variations in muscle tone, such as being too stiff or too floppy

  • Difficulty with fine motor skills

Individuals with cerebral palsy may also experience difficulties related to speech and eating, developmental delays, and other related conditions, such as seizures or trouble hearing or seeing.

Is cerebral palsy a disability?

Yes, the SSA does consider cerebral palsy a disability, so long as you can't work because of your condition.

If it's substantially limiting, cerebral palsy is also considered a disability by the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). This law, passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities.

Get tailored advice about your options.

Can you get disability benefits for cerebral palsy?

Yes, you can get disability benefits for cerebral palsy. To qualify, however, you must prove that you're unable to work due to your cerebral palsy.

It can be easier to secure disability benefits if you apply with more than one qualifying condition, so make sure to include in your application if you have another condition alongside your cerebral palsy. For instance, individuals with cerebral palsy are more likely to have conditions such as:

For more information on these conditions or other qualifying conditions, take a look at our main guide on conditions that qualify for disability.

Criteria for getting disability with cerebral palsy

It's possible to get disability with cerebral palsy as long as you can prove to the SSA that you are unable to work due to the severity of your symptoms. You'll need to provide medical documentation and records as evidence.

To determine if your cerebral palsy qualifies for disability benefits, the SSA considers the criteria outlined below. Your cerebral palsy must be characterized by one of the following.

Disorganization of motor function

One of the criteria your cerebral palsy may meet to qualify is if it results in disorganization of motor function in two of your extremities. This could occur in your lower extremities (legs) or upper extremities (arms, hands, fingers, etc.). 

Specifically, disorganization means your cerebral palsy impacts your ability to move in certain ways, such as standing up from a seated position, balancing while walking or standing, or using your upper extremities.

Marked limitation in physical functioning

Marked limitations in your physical function can also qualify cerebral palsy for disability benefits. For instance, you may struggle to use your upper extremities for work-related tasks due to your condition.

In addition to marked limitation in physical function, the SSA stipulates that you must also have a marked limitation in one of the following areas as a result of your cerebral palsy:

  • Understanding, remembering, or applying information

  • Interacting with other people

  • Concentrating, continuing with a task, or keeping up pace

  • Adapting to situations appropriately or managing yourself

Significant interference in communication

A third qualifying standard for cerebral palsy to meet the SSA requirements is significant interference in communication due to your symptoms. This might be due to speech, hearing, or vision difficulties.

3 questions to ask yourself before applying

Knowing your odds of qualifying before beginning the long application process is helpful. If you're able to answer “yes” to most of the following questions, then you have a better chance of success:

  1. Does your cerebral palsy affect your motor function in at least two extremities (either upper or lower, or one of each)?

  2. Do you have notable limitations in an area of both physical and cognitive functioning as a result of your cerebral palsy?

  3. Does your cerebral palsy interfere with your ability to communicate, whether through impacts on your hearing, speaking, or vision?

My cerebral palsy meets the criteria. Now what?

If your cerebral palsy meets the criteria, the next step is to apply for disability benefits. Not everyone's case is so clear-cut, though. For those struggling to decide what to do next, here's some guidance that can help you assess whether or not it makes sense to apply now:

  • Apply now if:

  • Consider waiting and applying later if:

    • Your cerebral palsy symptoms are moderate or seem like they could get better with treatment

    • You haven't stopped working yet, even if you think you may need to eventually

  • Probably don’t apply if:

    • You earn around $1,550 or more per month, which is the income limit for 2024

    • Your symptoms aren't severe enough that you can't work in any capacity

If you'd like further advice, consider taking our free 2-minute disability quiz. Give Atticus a call for free, personalized advice about your options. We can also introduce you to a disability lawyer if you're interested. (You only pay a one-time fee if your lawyer helps win you benefits.)

What type of benefits should I apply for?

As you navigate the disability benefits application process, you'll come across two different types of benefits that you can apply for: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both programs include health insurance (Medicare for SSDI and Medicaid for SSI) but differ in key ways.

SSDI is for those who have worked and paid taxes for at least five of the last 10 years. On the other hand, SSI is for people who haven't worked much or at all, have a low income (around $900 per month or less), and have few assets (like savings and other valuable property). 

Here's a more detailed breakdown of the eligibility requirements and differences between SSDI and SSI.

As cerebral palsy is a condition that commonly affects children, we also have some guidance for parents getting SSI for their children.

How much is a disability check for cerebral palsy?

The average disability check for cerebral palsy is $1,464.83 per month. You might receive less than that, though, or more. In 2024, the maximum amount you can make for cerebral palsy is $3,822 per month for SSDI and $943 per month for SSI.

These upper limits will apply no matter which condition qualifies you for disability benefits or how many qualifying conditions you have. Instead, how SSI is calculated is based on your other sources of income. SSDI, meanwhile, is determined based on your work history.

Estimate your disability benefit amount in just a few steps

We'll use the Social Security Administration's formula to estimate your monthly benefit.

monthly check


What if my cerebral palsy doesn’t meet the criteria?

You can still apply even if your cerebral palsy doesn't check off every SSA requirement. Just remember you'll need to prove through medical records that you're unable to work because of your cerebral palsy.

The application process is challenging, too, even for those whose cerebral palsy meets qualification requirements to a tee. Just 20% of applicants are successful on their first attempt. Persistence can pay off—the chances of winning a disability appeal are significantly higher.

For anyone needing financial or legal assistance in the meantime, Atticus has put together some resources for people with disabilities.

Related resources:

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Frequently asked questions about qualifying for disability

What conditions qualify for disability benefits?

Any medical condition that leaves you unable to work can qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The SSA has a list of common qualifying conditions in the Blue Book. You can also check our full guide to all the conditions that can qualify for disability.

Does my condition affect my disability benefit?

No, the medical condition you have doesn’t affect how much you get from SSDI or SSI. Where you live also doesn’t impact your check size.

How much do SSDI and SSI pay?

SSDI pays up to $3,822 per month, though the average check is about $1,500 in 2024. SSI can pay up to $943 per month in 2024. Read more about how much you can make on SSDI and SSI.

When should I apply for disability benefits?

We recommend applying for benefits as soon as you know you’ll be unable to work. The application process takes a while — a year or longer for the average person. The sooner you submit your application, the sooner you can get your benefits.

Where do I apply for disability benefits?

Apply for Social Security disability benefits online through the SSA website or in-person at your local SSA office. Get step-by-step help in our breakdown of the disability application process.

Do I need a lawyer to apply for disability?

A lawyer isn’t required and you can win benefits without a lawyer. However, the process is complicated and technical — especially when you get to a court hearing. Working with a good lawyer triples your chances of winning an appeal.

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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