SSD and Intellectual Disabilities

Have you ever taken an IQ test? Formally called an “intelligence quotient” test, an IQ test serves to determine an individual’s intellectual potential. IQ tests gauge intellect through questions about analogies, patterns, and classifications, and test visual, spatial, and logical skills. An IQ test might ask questions like:

  • What number comes next in the pattern of 37, 34, 31, 28?
  • Book is to reading as fork is to . . .

In the United States, the average score of an IQ test is between 85 and 114. 68% of test takers are in this range, but 2.3% score a 130 to 144, which identifies them as gifted. And less than 1% of test takers score between a 145 and 159, the qualifications for a genius.

Just like some people score higher than average, some people also score lower than average on IQ tests.

What is an Intellectual Disability?

According to the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, an intellectual disability is characterized by significant limitations in intellectual functions as well as limitations in adaptive behavior. Adaptive behavior includes everyday skills, like cleaning the house, making a meal, or going to school or work.

Intellectual disabilities are broken into categories based on IQ score and the severity of a person’s limitations:

  • Mild: IQ score of 50 to 75
  • Moderate: IQ score of 35 to 49
  • Severe: IQ score of 20 to 34
  • Profound: IQ less than 20

85% of people with intellectual disabilities have a mild disability. This means they can usually adapt to daily life and blend in socially, though they are slower in developmental areas. On the other hand, people with severe impairments might be unable to live independently.

Adaptive Behavior Challenges at Work

When someone has an intellectual disability, it can have a significant impact on their ability to work. An intellectual disability not only affects skills like problem solving, concentrating, and applying new information, but might also impact a person’s ability to:

  • exhibit socially appropriate behavior at work
  • distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable work performance
  • dress appropriately for work and maintain appropriate personal hygiene
  • avoid occupational hazards

For example, a construction worker with an intellectual disability could be unable to quickly learn how to properly and safely use a new piece of machinery. Their delay in learning not only hinders productivity, but could also put themselves or others at risk if a project involves heavy, fast-moving, or otherwise dangerous machinery. Or in an office setting, an intellectual disability might affect someone’s ability to work on multiple tasks.

Does an Intellectual Disability Qualify for SSD?

If someone’s intellectual disability impacts their ability to work, they might be able to qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. For someone to qualify, they must have an overall IQ of 70 or below, or an IQ score between 71 and 75 with a verbal or performance score below 70. An SSD applicant’s abilities in adaptive functioning are also considered. If someone’s IQ is so low that they cannot take an IQ test, their ability to perform basic functions, like eating and dressing, is taken into account. Additionally, an intellectual disorder must have existed before the individual was 22 years old. This rules out intellectual limitations that resulted from something else, like a traumatic brain injury, though such limitations may still qualify someone for SSD under different requirements.

Though people with intellectual disabilities might have developmental delays or adaptive issues, many still thrive in life, and SSD can help.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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