What to Expect When Your Disabled Child Turns 18


Turning 18 is a tremendous milestone for anyone, marking the beginning of adulthood in the eyes of the law. For a disabled child, however, it also means significant changes in their eligibility for benefits and role in decision-making. Once your disabled child reaches adulthood, you legally can no longer make decisions for them regarding their health and welfare, so you must plan accordingly as soon as possible. They become fully responsible for their choices and actions – but that doesn’t mean you can’t still play an important role in their life.

If your child has been receiving various state and federal services, benefits, and accommodations, it’s essential to understand those changes.

Child vs. Adult Eligibility for Disability Benefits

While your child may meet the definition of disability for children, they do not have a qualifying disability as an adult. Regarding child and adulthood disability benefits eligibility, there are two major differences:

  1. Medical differences. Children and teenagers are still developing and often do not exhibit or respond to illness like adults, so they need specialized healthcare pediatricians and children’s hospitals. This is why the Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a separate Listing of Impairments for adults (Part A) and children (Part B). While they have much in common, the specific criteria differ significantly between these two Listings. For example, growth impairment is specific to children and listed in Part B. 
  2. Definition differences. Children are not expected to work to support themselves. So, the SSA’s definition of what constitutes a disability for children differs from that for adults. While impairment in adults means the claimant cannot work, impairment in children means the claimant has “marked and severe functional limitations.”  These functional limitations are divided into six categories: learning and thinking, task completion, social interaction, self-care, moving around and manipulating objects, and overall health and well-being.

Changes in SSI Availability

If your disabled child qualifies for and receives SSI benefits before turning 18, they must meet different adult standards after their 18th birthday. Before turning 18, the SSA attributes part of both parents’ (or legal guardians’) income to their child’s resources to determine their eligibility for needs-based SSI. However, on the child’s 18th birthday, the parent’s income is no longer considered when determining the child’s eligibility for benefits.

That being said, many people with disabilities who did not qualify as a minor will qualify for SSI as an adult because only the adult applicant’s income and assets are being used to determine their financial eligibility.     

Education Transition

If your child is in public school, they will most likely be working to earn a diploma or certificate. If they receive a diploma upon graduation, that opens new opportunities for higher education or trade school. Many higher education institutions have accommodations for students, like in their IEP (Individualized Education Program). In IEP meetings, you should discuss the best course of action with your child.

Suppose you and your child decide to pursue a high school certificate based on their level of capacity and need. In that case, the child may be able to continue in a transitional program in their high school even after they complete their senior year. These transitional programs typically focus on life skills, including financial literacy, social engagements, preparation for employment, and related activities. Most children in this program are permitted to remain in the program until the end of the school year, when they turn either 21 or 22, depending on the state.

Living Arrangement Support

When a disabled child reaches the age of 18, they may be eligible for different living arrangements based on their existing services. For instance, if your child receives therapy services in school, it becomes critical to determine where these services will continue post-school transition. This might involve utilizing a Medicaid Waiver or private insurance for continued support.

Respite services eligibility can also vary. If your child has a specific weekly care limit, those hours might work while attending school most of the day. However, these hours might not suffice if your child is no longer eligible for public education. Additionally, local programs may have impractical participation requirements if your child continues to live at home. So, exploring all available benefits and options for your child before deciding about post-high school living arrangements and services is essential.

Financial Protections

Initiating financial protections for a person with disabilities is crucial, and it’s advisable to start this process well before your child approaches the age of 18. Consider establishing a special needs trust and updating estate planning documents early to prevent an inheritance from jeopardizing your child’s governmental benefits. Other protective measures include utilizing an ABLE account and appointing a Representative Payee for Social Security.

Beginning financial safeguards early on is especially important once your child completes the educational system. ABLE accounts permit individuals to maintain some income and resources beyond the typical limit for governmental benefits recipients, continuing these benefits. This tool also allows your child financial independence and the chance to learn financial management without the risk of substantial financial losses or misuse. While there are limits on annual ABLE account deposits and fund usage, integrating ABLE accounts with a Special Needs Trust can offer comprehensive financial protection and independence for your child.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines the payee for your child’s Social Security benefit. Whether your child becomes their payee or SSA appoints a Representative Payee is a decision made in collaboration with the assigned Social Security representative. It is imperative to avoid commingling assets between the Representative Payee and your child’s Social Security benefits, necessitating a separate bank account in your child’s name for benefit reception. 

Michigan’s Leading Disability Lawyers are Here for Your Family

 The process of seeking benefits can be overwhelming, especially for families when their disabled child turns 18. At the Disability Attorneys of Michigan, you are more than just a case to us. We are here to answer any questions you have about your disabled child’s rights and help determine the best course of action for adulthood. We will put you and your family first and help secure the benefits you and your family deserve.

Contact us today by submitting a form below or call our office at 800-949-2900 for a free case evaluation.






I will never forget you and the hard work you did to secure my Social Security Disability benefits. Thank you!

- Christine C.