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Assessment of severity

In childhood cases, as with adults, severity is measured according to the functional limitations imposed by the medically determinable mental impairment. However, the range of functions used to assess impairment severity for children varies at different stages of maturation.

The functional areas that we consider are: Motor function; cognitive/communicative function; social function; personal function; and concentration, persistence, or pace. In most functional areas, there are two alternative methods of documenting the required level of severity: (1) Use of standardized tests alone, where appropriate test instruments are available, and (2) use of other medical findings. (See 112.00D for explanation of these documentation requirements.) The use of standardized tests is the preferred method of documentation if such tests are available.

Newborn and younger infants (birth to attainment of age 1) have not developed sufficient personality differentiation to permit formulation of appropriate diagnoses. We have, therefore, assigned listing 112.12 for Developmental and Emotional Disorders of Newborn and Younger Infants for the evaluation of mental disorders of such children. Severity of these disorders is based on measures of development in motor, cognitive/communicative, and social functions. When older infants and toddlers (age 1 to attainment of age 3) do not clearly satisfy the paragraph A criteria of any listing because of insufficient developmental differentiation, they must be evaluated under the rules for equivalency. The principles for assessing the severity of impairment in such children, described in the following paragraphs, must be employed.

Generally, when we assess the degree of developmental delay imposed by a mental impairment, we will use an infant's or toddler's chronological age; i.e., the child's age based on birth date. If the infant or toddler was born prematurely, however, we will follow the rules in § 416.924b(b) to determine whether we should use the infant's or toddler's corrected chronological age; i.e., the chronological age adjusted by the period of gestational prematurity.

In defining the severity of functional limitations, two different sets of paragraph B criteria corresponding to two separate age groupings have been established, in addition to listing 112.12, which is for children who have not attained age 1. These age groups are: older infants and toddlers (age 1 to attainment of age 3) and children (age 3 to attainment of age 18). However, the discussion below in 112.00C1, 2, 3, and 4, on the age-appropriate areas of function, is broken down into four age groupings: older infants and toddlers (age 1 to attainment of age 3), preschool children (age 3 to attainment of age 6), primary school children (age 6 to attainment of age 12), and adolescents (age 12 to attainment of age 18). This was done to provide specific guidance on the age group variances in disease manifestations and methods of evaluation.

Where "marked" is used as a standard for measuring the degree of limitation it means more than moderate but less than extreme. A marked limitation may arise when several activities or functions are impaired, or even when only one is impaired, as long as the degree of limitation is such as to interfere seriously with the ability to function (based upon age-appropriate expectations) independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis. When standardized tests are used as the measure of functional parameters, a valid score that is two standard deviations below the norm for the test will be considered a marked restriction.

  1. Older infants and toddlers (age 1 to attainment of age 3). In this age group, impairment severity is assessed in three areas: (a) Motor development, (b) cognitive/ communicative function, and (c) social function.
    1. Motor development. Much of what we can discern about mental function in these children frequently comes from observation of the degree of development of fine and gross motor function. Developmental delay, as measured by a good developmental milestone history confirmed by medical examination, is critical. This information will ordinarily be available in the existing medical evidence from the claimant's treating sources and other medical sources, supplemented by information from nonmedical sources, such as parents, who have observed the child and can provide pertinent historical information. It may also be available from standardized testing. If the delay is such that the older infant or toddler has not achieved motor development generally acquired by children no more than one-half the child's chronological age, the criteria are satisfied.
    2. Cognitive/communicative function. Cognitive/communicative function is measured using one of several standardized infant scales. Appropriate tests for the measure of such function are discussed in 112.00D. Screening instruments may be useful in uncovering potentially serious impairments, but often must be supplemented by other data. However, in some cases, the results of screening tests may show such obvious abnormalities that further testing will clearly be unnecessary. For older infants and toddlers, alternative criteria covering disruption in communication as measured by their capacity to use simple verbal and nonverbal structures to communicate basic needs are provided.
    3. Social function. Social function in older infants and toddlers is measured in terms of the development of relatedness to people (e.g., bonding and stranger anxiety) and attachment to animate or inanimate objects. Criteria are provided that use standard social maturity scales or alternative criteria that describe marked impairment in socialization.
  2. Preschool children (age 3 to attainment of age 6). For the age groups including preschool children through adolescence, the functional areas used to measure severity are: (a) Cognitive/communicative function, (b) social function, (c) personal function, and (d) deficiencies of concentration, persistence, or pace resulting in frequent failure to complete tasks in a timely manner. After 36 months, motor function is no longer felt to be a primary determinant of mental function, although, of course, any motor abnormalities should be documented and evaluated.
    1. Cognitive / communicative function. In the preschool years and beyond, cognitive function can be measured by standardized tests of intelligence, although the appropriate instrument may vary with age. A primary criterion for limited cognitive function is a valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 70 or less. The listings also provide alternative criteria, consisting of tests of language development or bizarre speech patterns.
    2. Social function. Social functioning refers to a child's capacity to form and maintain relationships with parents, other adults, and peers. Social functioning includes the ability to get along with others (e.g., family members, neighborhood friends, classmates, teachers). Impaired social functioning may be caused by inappropriate externalized actions (e.g., running away, physical aggression--but not self-injurious actions, which are evaluated in the personal area of functioning), or inappropriate internalized actions (e.g., social isolation, avoidance of interpersonal activities, mutism). Its severity must be documented in terms of intensity, frequency, and duration, and shown to be beyond what might be reasonably expected for age. Strength in social functioning may be documented by such things as the child's ability to respond to and initiate social interaction with others, to sustain relationships, and to participate in group activities. Cooperative behaviors, consideration for others, awareness of others' feelings, and social maturity, appropriate to a child's age, also need to be considered. Social functioning in play and school may involve interactions with adults, including responding appropriately to persons in authority (e.g., teachers, coaches) or cooperative behaviors involving other children. Social functioning is observed not only at home but also in preschool programs.
    3. Personal function. Personal functioning in preschool children pertains to self-care; i.e., personal needs, health, and safety (feeding, dressing, toileting, bathing; maintaining personal hygiene, proper nutrition, sleep, health habits; adhering to medication or therapy regimens; following safety precautions). Development of self-care skills is measured in terms of the child's increasing ability to help himself/herself and to cooperate with others in taking care of these needs. Impaired ability in this area is manifested by failure to develop such skills, failure to use them, or self-injurious actions. This function may be documented by a standardized test of adaptive behavior or by a careful description of the full range of self-care activities. These activities are often observed not only at home but also in preschool programs.
    4. Concentration, persistence, or pace. This function may be measured through observations of the child in the course of standardized testing and in the course of play.
  3. Primary school children (age 6 to attainment of age 12). The measures of function here are similar to those for preschool-age children except that the test instruments may change and the capacity to function in the school setting is supplemental information. Standardized measures of academic achievement, e.g., Wide Range Achievement Test-Revised, Peabody Individual Achievement Test, etc., may be helpful in assessing cognitive impairment. Problems in social functioning, especially in the area of peer relationships, are often observed first hand by teachers and school nurses. As described in 112.00D, Documentation, school records are an excellent source of information concerning function and standardized testing and should always be sought for school-age children. As it applies to primary school children, the intent of the functional criterion described in paragraph B2d, i.e., deficiencies of concentration, persistence, or pace resulting in failure to complete tasks in a timely manner, is to identify the child who cannot adequately function in primary school because of a mental impairment. Although grades and the need for special education placement are relevant factors which must be considered in reaching a decision under paragraph B2d, they are not conclusive. There is too much variability from school district to school district in the expected level of grading and in the criteria for special education placement to justify reliance solely on these factors.
  4. Adolescents (age 12 to attainment of age 18). Functional criteria parallel to those for primary school children (cognitive/ communicative; social; personal; and concentration, persistence, or pace) are the measures of severity for this age group. Testing instruments appropriate to adolescents should be used where indicated. Comparable findings of disruption of social function must consider the capacity to form appropriate, stable, and lasting relationships. If information is available about cooperative working relationships in school or at part-time or full-time work, or about the ability to work as a member of a group, it should be considered when assessing the child's social functioning. Markedly impoverished social contact, isolation, withdrawal, and inappropriate or bizarre behavior under the stress of socializing with others also constitute comparable findings. (Note that self-injurious actions are evaluated in the personal area of functioning.)
    1. Personal functioning in adolescents pertains to self-care. It is measured in the same terms as for younger children, the focus, however, being on the adolescent's ability to take care of his or her own personal needs, health, and safety without assistance. Impaired ability in this area is manifested by failure to take care of these needs or by self-injurious actions. This function may be documented by a standardized test of adaptive behavior or by careful descriptions of the full range of self-care activities.
    2. In adolescents, the intent of the functional criterion described in paragraph B2d is the same as in primary school children. However, other evidence of this functional impairment may also be available, such as from evidence of the child's performance in work or work-like settings.

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Call Social Security Professionals now to discuss your claim for free

You need no money to hire Attorney Donald H. Peters

(248) 549-3485

Southfield Lawyer Donald Peters of the Law Office of Donald H. Peters, P.C. in Southfield, Michigan, handles Social Security Disability claims throughout Michigan and in the Tri-County Metro Detroit area including Detroit, Southfield, Novi, Warren, Royal Oak, Roseville, Livonia, Mount Clemens, Sterling Heights, Farmington Hills, Birmingham, Berkley, Oak Park, West Bloomfield, Ann Arbor, Eastpointe, Waterford, Flint, Canton, Taylor, Romulus, Westland, Clinton Township, Troy, Dearborn, Brighton, Howell, Pontiac, Rochester Hills,  as well as Wayne County, Oakland County, Macomb County, Ingham County, and Livingston County, Michigan.


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