Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

SSI and Employment Opportunities for Young Adults with Retardation: Safety Net or Bungee Cord? (Research Reflections)

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

SSI and Employment Opportunities for Young Adults with Retardation: Safety Net or Bungee Cord? (Research Reflections)

Article excerpt

April seems like an appropriate month to write about "income." My grandfather always used to exclaim, "Be happy you have to pay taxes! That means you're making money!" However, there aren't many individuals with disabilities who make enough to worry about paying income tax. In fact, the economic outlook for people with disabilities is not particularly promising, especially after they leave high school. Technological advances have provided tremendous employment opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities, but for those with cognitive disabilities, successful employment outcomes have been far fewer.

There is some good news here, though. "Disability Determination for Mental Retardation," a report released recently from the National Research Council, focuses on the scientific base and current clinical practices in diagnosing mental retardation for the purpose of awarding disability benefits. Individuals with mental retardation comprise the largest diagnostic category of children receiving supplemental security income (SSI), 26.4 percent of the total, and thus are the focus of this report. Many parents and service providers don't realize that receipt of benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) programs can provide a "critical gateway" to other federal and state benefits.

While the report from the National Research Council has most relevance for individuals who have IQ scores at or around 60 to 70 (known as having "mild mental retardation"), it has implications for other disability recipients, their parents or careproviders, and professionals who provide services to this population. The report is based on state-of-the-art research in disability and mental retardation, and thus is oriented toward a scientific as well as a policy perspective.

What's new about this report?

The French have a saying, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. So, too, with definitions of retardation, "the more things change, the more things stay the same." It is important to know that the definition of mental retardation (MR) used by the SSA differs somewhat from that of many major professional and healthcare organizations. Indeed, as you read this, the American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) is considering, again, both a name and a definition change. Here are the aspects of SSA's definition that are relevant for eligibility purposes.

The current practice of considering both intelligence (as measured by traditional IQ tests) and adaptive behavior as critical components of MR will continue. The new recommendations pertain to the specific types of instruments to be used in determining eligibility. For example, for testing IQ, the committee recommends using only comprehensive, multi-factored (statistically defensible) intelligence tests that have recent and valid norms. The child, youth or adult tested must have a total IQ score (sometimes called a "full" or "composite" score) at or below 70, or a part score (i.e., score on a subsection of the IQ measure) at or below 70. Still under debate by the SSA is whether a composite score out of the mental retardation range will be accepted in the presence of a low part score. The report lists acceptable instruments for infants, children and adults, and many of the names are recognizable: Bayley Scales of Infant Development-II; Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children; Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Fourth Edition; Wechsler Intelligence Scales (for preschool, children, adults).

Adaptive behavior is still a key dimension of mental retardation, and again, standardized instruments are recommended. Recommendations for adaptive behavior, as for IQ, are further divided by age and associated developmental expectations (infancy/ early childhood, birth-4; childhood, 5-17; adolescence/adulthood, 18 and older). Actual domains of adaptive behavior vary more obviously by developmental level. For example, academic skills don't become critical adaptive components until the school-age years, and work-related skills don't enter into the picture until adolescence or adulthood. …

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