Contact Us



Disability claimants with borderline intellectual functioning (IQs between 71 and 84) can qualify for disability benefits and SSI. This is especially so if they have other impairments.

Borderline intellectual functioning is a cognitive impairment resulting in lower than average intelligence, but not a severe intellectual disability which was formerly known as mental retardation. People with borderline intellectual functioning typically have difficulties with learning, reasoning, planning, abstract thinking, and judgment. Lower than average intellectual functioning can be caused by birth injury, infections, genetics, fetal alcohol syndrome, or environmental exposure to toxins.

While the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) impairment listing for intellectual disorders (12.05) requires an IQ of 70 or less, a new listing was introduced in 2017 for borderline intellectual functioning. The new listing references “neurodevelopmental disorders,” which generally cover those disorders that an individual has had since childhood. Cognitive problems developed in adulthood, on the other hand, such as dementia or traumatic brain injury, are evaluated under the listing for neurocognitive disorders instead.

The listing that applies to borderline intellectual functioning requires that the claimant have significantly limited academic skills and difficulties with learning. The applicant must be able to show extreme limitations in one of the following areas, or marked limitations in two:

  1. Understanding or using information (ability to learn terms and procedures, understand instructions, answer questions and provide explanations)
  2. Managing oneself (ability to regulate emotions, control behavior, be aware of risks and protect self from harm).
  3. Concentrating on tasks and maintaining pace (ability to start and finish work; ability to complete tasks in a timely manner), and/or
  4. Interacting with others (ability to ask for help when needed, keep social interactions free of excessive irritability or sensitivity).

Generally an extreme limitation in learning and understanding is documented only for individuals with an IQ of 70 or below. Many claimants, however, may be able to show that their borderline intellectual functioning causes a marked limitation in learning and understanding. It may be more difficult for some claimants to show a severe limitation in a second area (social, concentration, or managing oneself), although it’s not uncommon for individuals with borderline intellectual functioning to have moderate limitations in these areas.

Even if you do not meet or equal the listing because you only have a severe limitation in understanding and using information, your disability claim could still be successful if you are unable to perform your past work and other jobs that exist in significant numbers. This is generally only true for those claimants with borderline intellectual functioning in addition to other physical or other mental impairments.

When an applicant fails to meet or equal a listing, SSA will assess the applicant’s mental and physical limitations to come up with the applicant’s mental “residual functional capacity,” or “mental RFC,” and a physical RFC. The RFCs are then used to determine whether there are any jobs the applicant can do despite his or her limitations.

Mental RFC

A mental RFC will discuss the applicant’s abilities in the following areas:

1. Following instructions

Applicants with borderline intellectual functioning may have a limited ability to understand, remember, and carry out complex instructions. They may require that tasks be broken into individual steps that can be completed one at a time, rather than being given a series of instructions that must be remembered and followed one after another.

2. Supervision and training

The need for close supervision and/or an extended training period is another related limitation. A person with borderline intellectual functioning may not be able to do any jobs unless extensive support from supervisors is provided, beyond that typically available in competitive employment.
3. Concentration

People with borderline intellectual functioning may also have limited ability to concentrate and focus. They may need to avoid multi-tasking or doing several things at once. As a result, they may be limited to jobs that involve only simple, routine tasks. Evidence of difficulties with concentration may be found in work evaluations that show frequent errors.

4, “Pace” 

Someone who needs extra time to perform tasks may not be able to do certain jobs, such as assembly-line work.


Because people with borderline intellectual functioning often have impaired judgment and reasoning ability, they may have a limited ability to make judgments on complex work-related decisions. This is another potential workplace limitation that should be included in the claimant’s mental RFC.

6.Social functioning

Borderline intellectual functioning often causes difficulties with social functioning and communication. Someone with this condition may be unsuited to jobs that involve dealing with customers. This should be reflected in the mental RFC as a limitation in the ability to interact with the general public.

After completing your mental and physical RFCs (which include your maximum sustained work capabilities from an exertional and non-exertional perspective), SSA will determine whether given your RFC, your age, your education level, and your skill level, you can perform past jobs or other work.

Evidence Needed to Prove Disabling Borderline Intellectual Functioning

An individual with borderline intellectual functioning should gather as much evidence of the above limitations as possible when applying for disability benefits. School records, testimony from teachers or supervisors, and other evidence may show a higher level of impairment than the IQ score alone might suggest. In addition, applicants should submit their IQ test scores making sure to include information about the standard deviation of the IQ test that was used. The standard deviation could indicate that test scores tend to be high and may not fully reflect the applicant’s disability.

With as complicated the criteria and the process for determining disability based on borderline intellectual functioning, retaining an experienced disability law firm is imperative to increase your probability of early success and the award of benefits. Call Green and Greenberg today! (401) 331-8989