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Tourette syndrome and Disability Benefits

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. The condition was first described and documented in 1885 by Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette, a French neurologist.

Symptoms of Tourettes generally manifest early in childhood and affect males and females, although the occurrence of the condition is most prevalent in males.

Claimants who have tics can have experience either complex or simple symptoms of the condition including brief, repetitive movements such as eye blinking and other vision irregularities. Other individuals may have more complex symptoms such as facial grimacing, shoulder shrugging, and head or shoulder jerking.

The most severe cases can include disabling tics involving complex motor movements that result in self-harm: hitting oneself in the face or vocal tics including uttering swear words or repeating the words or phrases of others.

It is estimated that up to 10% of Tourette cases have a disabling course of symptoms that progress into adulthood, although most individuals with this condition experience the most severe symptoms in their mid-teen years and their condition improves as they reach early adulthood.

Most claimants’ symptoms can get worse during specific periods of anxiety and improve if they are engaged in more focused tasks. Other physical factors can also trigger symptoms.

Meeting a Disability Listing for Tourette Syndrome

To qualify for either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits a claimant must prove that their mental or physical health condition is so severe that they are unable to perform substantial gainful activity for at least 12 continuous months.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates a claimant’s condition and determines eligibility by first considering whether a claimant’s condition is so severe that it meets or equals a listing on the SSA Listing of Impairments (also known as the SSA Blue Book). If a claimant’s condition “meets or equals a listing” the claimant will automatically be approved for disability benefits (assuming they meet the nonmedical requirements for either SSI or SSDI).

Tourette Syndrome may be evaluated under listing 12.00 for Mental Disorders and more specifically under Section 12.08 Personality Disorders.

Section 12.08 Personality disorders

A personality disorder exists when personality traits are inflexible and maladaptive and cause either significant impairment in social or occupational functioning or subjective distress. Characteristic features are typical of the individual's long-term functioning and are not limited to discrete episodes of illness.

The required level of severity for these disorders is met when the requirements in both A and B are satisfied.

A. Deeply ingrained, maladaptive patterns of behavior associated with one of the following:

1. Seclusiveness or autistic thinking; or

2. Pathologically inappropriate suspiciousness or hostility; or

3. Oddities of thought, perception, speech and behavior; or

4. Persistent disturbances of mood or affect; or

5. Pathological dependence, passivity, or aggressivity; or

6. Intense and unstable interpersonal relationships and impulsive and damaging behavior;


B. Resulting in at least two of the following:

1. Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or

2. Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; or

3. Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or

4. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.

Claimants whose condition does not specifically meet this listing may prove that their condition is as severe as another listing in the Blue Book or they may have to win disability benefits through a medical vocational allowance.

Winning Disability Benefits for Tourette Syndrome through a Medical Vocational Allowance

Winning SSD for Tourette Syndrome through a Medical Vocational Allowance requires the SSA to evaluate the claimant’s remaining capacity to work as well as their educational level, their age and their work experience. If the SSA determines the claimant could work any job available in the national economy that they are qualified to work based on their residual work capacity and factors listed above, the claimant will be denied benefits.

The disability determination process is not simple. The Social Security Administration has created rules, regulations and processes to simplify the process and create continuity between each disability determination office. Talk to the Social Security Administration or a Social Security Disability lawyer if you have questions about your disability status.