Throughout the month, we have taken a hard look at various perceived flaws with the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program that delivers monthly stipends to disabled children and their families. In one final such examination of this program, we will look at the growing number of young children who are receiving SSI for developmental delays and similar behavioral and mental disorders. Critics claim that the Social Security Administration (SSA) significantly mismanages the program by failing to follow up with children to offer assistance in guiding them out of the program.
According to SSA data, children under the age of five make up four of every 10 new SSI cases, making toddlers the fastest-growing age group that qualifies for SSI benefits. A similarly interesting statistic is that the number of children approved for SSI based on a delayed speech diagnoses has multiplied by 12 since 1997. While the SSA does not specify whether the two statistics are related, it is believed that the majority of toddlers who qualify for SSI do so on the basis of delayed speech, which generally only affects children for a short period of time.
While many early childhood specialists were surprised at the increase in speech delay problems among young children receiving SSI, others say that the diagnosis is often tactical, used as a way to diagnose a legitimately afflicted child without attaching the stigma of a disability. “It’s a fear of labeling,” said early childhood program coordinator Dawn Thomas, adding that psychologists may actually be doing more harm than good. “But a speech and language diagnosis can hide the real issues.”
Early childhood professional Lori Chaves rebuts this claim, stating that speech and behavioral disorders often go hand-in-hand. “With a lot of mental health diagnosis, we see a lot of communication disorders,” she said.
We will continue our look at this issue, including an examination of perceived SSA failures and SSA’s response to those accusations, later this week.
Source: Boston Globe, “A coveted benefit, a failure to follow up“, Patricia Wen, 12 December 2010