Social Security Disability and Lowered IQ

There is a concept involved in the Social Security Disability process known as premorbid IQ. How does it come into play in the disability decision process?

It typically applies to organic brain syndrome (i.e. traumatic brain injury, closed head injuries) and can potentially result in a disability approval for a claimant whose current measured IQ is not listing level (for mental retardation) but can be shown to have dropped at least 15 points since before their accident or illness (this would be their premorbid IQ score).

The problem with premorbid IQ scores, however, is that claimants/patients who have suffered a drop in IQ due to illness or injury may not have prior (a.k.a. premorbid) IQ scores on record. That, being the case, how can one demonstrate that a 15 point drop has occurred?. In reality, you can't.

However, I will point out that low lifelong IQ (mental retardation or borderline intellectual functioning) and lowered IQ as a result of an injury or disease process can potentially result in a awarding of disability benefits.

In the first example (mental retardation and borderline intellectual functioning), the issue would likely be whether or not the claimant has the ability to engage in SRRT's. What are these? The acronym stands for simple, routine, repetitive tasks.

Basically, an individual who files for disability and is unable to engage in such tasks will be judged to be disabled.

Regarding the second example (lowered IQ as a result of an injury or disease process), the focus of the adjudicator, or decision maker, will be whether or not the claimant will retain the ability to perform the type of work they have done in the past.

If the judgement is made that the claimant cannot return to one of the relevant jobs they have performed in the last 15 years (the relevant period), then the next determination will be whether or not the claimant will be able to perform some form of other work. And this determination will be based on the claimant's age, education, work skills, and physical or mental limitations.

Impaired intellectual functioning, of course, could potentially serve as a major factor in this determination, especially for older individuals (older claimants are considered to have fewer vocational options in the national economy and, for this reason, they often find it easier to win disability benefits than younger individuals).

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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