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This is an example of a childhood SSI claim which Attorney Amy Altbach has worked on. The child, Desiree, has had an IEP plan since kindergarten due to developmental delays and ADHD. She’s currently in third grade and still unable to identify all the letters in the alphabet or numbers up to twenty, nor write her first and last name. Her most recent grade report from school reflects all D’s and an academic warning letter was sent home from school suggesting the danger of failure of third grade for Desiree.
Additionally, Desiree has significant speech problem and severe language impairment. She stutters and per school speech pathologist has significant expressive and receptive speech delays. Her expressive skills are equivalent to two years and eight month year old. Per the IEP plan, the children at school do tease Desiree about her limitations with speech due to stuttering; and consequently, Desiree shuts down.
Who is helping Desiree? It is clear that her IEP is not adequately addressing Desiree’s academic needs. She is eight years and not making academic progress. Instead of revising her IEP plan which is more than 12 months old, the school sent an academic warning letter home to her mother.
As an attorney, who helps children obtain SSI disability benefits, I find this all very upsetting. There is little help, resources, or understanding for these children and their families in terms of helping these children grow and develop to their full potential.
It is assumed that childhood SSI cases will have to ultimately go to a hearing. At Desiree’s hearing, there was a medical expert prepared to testify. However, the expert was a psychologist by phone, who lived in another state. He was not a child psychologist nor was he an expert on the Chicago Public School System, or on speech problems.
The medical expert did confirm that Desiree had a severe impairment. Namely, she had a severe learning disorder and cognitive impairment. This is step one in the disability process, that the claimant has a severe impairment. Step two, is whether or not the severe impairment, meets or functionally equals a Medical Listing of Impairments. He testified that Desiree’s impairments did not equal or functionally meet any of the listings, that she was not disabled under the Social Security Guidelines.
He testified that she did have marked restrictions with regards to acquiring and using information (lack of academic progress). But, with regards to her speech and her inability to socially interact, he did not believe this was marked. He based his opinion on a speech consultative examination that was performed over 18 months ago. This examination performed by a speech pathologist was paid for by Social Security, unclear whether or not the speech pathologist reviewed any of Desiree’s records (like the IEP and school’s psychological evaluation), or how much time the speech pathologist spent with Desiree testing her.
The medical expert at the hearing, had NOT reviewed the school’s evaluation performed by the school’s speech pathologist, who clearly had all the records, seen Desiree not only one on one but in the classroom interacting with other students and teachers (so in many different settings). The school speech pathologist also had all the records to review, spoke to Desiree’s teachers as well as her mother, and had actually worked with Desiree over time in short sessions of 30 minutes. This is noted in the IEP plan.
I believe the medical expert at the hearing had simply overlooked the school’s speech pathology evaluation and had failed to completely read Desiree’s IEP. In her IEP, if he had read it, there are 3 speech and language goals. I asked the medical expert if he had seen the school speech pathology evaluation and if he noted the inconsistencies in both reports? Why would he give a consultative examiner more weight than a treating source in a school setting? And by the way this is the Chicago Public Schools, where resources are extremely limited. She is receiving 90 minutes a week of speech and language services thru the school district.
After a few minutes, the medical expert did change his opinion. But, if I hadn’t been in the hearing room, Desiree would have been denied disability benefits. The medical expert at the hearing had not even reviewed her entire social security file.
Every child is different. At Nash Disability Law, we are happy to consult with you about your child’s case. Please contact us at 312-443-0900 for a free consultation today.