Compassionate Allowance - Bilateral Optic Atrophy – Infantile

Bilateral optic atrophy (BOA) is a condition that impacts the optic nerve on both eyes. It interrupts the nerve impulses that communicate visual information to the brain. It can develop slowly and progress gradually, or can, in some instances occur suddenly and progress rapidly.

The impact of the condition on vision varies from case to case, ranging from very near normal in the mildest cases to blindness in the most severe. As the name implies, this is a disorder that impacts infants, and is typically present at birth, though the signs and symptoms of BOA may not be immediately obvious. Infants with BOA meet the medical eligibility criteria for receiving Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, though they may or may not meet the technical eligibility rules.

Infantile Bilateral Optic Atrophy Symptoms and Treatments

Infantile BOA can result from a variety of causes, including other diseases and conditions that may occur in conjunction with this disorder. These include, but are not limited to, birth trauma or hypoxia at or just following birth, tumors in the optic pathways, and hereditary and degenerative diseases.

Impairments that occur with BOA can affect multiple visual processes, including:

  • Central vision
  • Contrast distinction
  • Overall visual acuity

The disorder may additionally cause a range of other symptoms, some of which may be present at birth, including abnormal, involuntary eye movements known as nystagmus, and color and structure changes in the optic disc. Many infants with this condition, especially those who have the more severe forms of the disorder, also have mild to severe neurological issues. Seizures, problems with motor function and developmental delays are commonly seen in more severe cases.

There is no cure for BOA and early treatment focuses primarily on addressing symptoms. For instance, in infants born with tumors in the optic pathways, surgical removal of tumors is typically performed to reduce the long-term effects of the condition and potentially limit the level of visual impairment. Ongoing treatments focus on minimizing the affects of the disorder and on providing supportive care.

Applying for SSD with Infantile Bilateral Optic Atrophy

Applying for SSD benefits on behalf of a minor child is somewhat different than it is when submitting an adult disability application for yourself. The primary difference in the application and review process is that the benefits you are applying for are offered through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program rather than through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

SSI is a need-based program. This means that your child must not only meet the medical requirements for receiving benefits but also the technical/financial criteria as well. Income and assets for your child, including your own finances, will be reviewed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to determine eligibility.

It is important to note that BOA is a condition that is approved for expedited review and processing under the SSA’s Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program. While this cuts through much of the red tape involved in the SSD application process, it does not prevent the need for completing the application or providing substantiating medical and other records associated with your child’s disability.

In reviewing medical evidence, the SSA will compare your child’s records to particular listings within the SSA’s Blue Book. These listings may include:

  • Section 102.02 – Loss of visual acuity
  • Section 102.03 – Contraction of visual field in the better eye
  • Section 102.4 – Loss of visual efficacy

As infants cannot effectively participate in visual tests that require active involvement and understanding of directions, the diagnosis of BOA in combination with medical records that substantiate anatomical abnormalities in the visual pathways are often sufficient for proving disability and satisfying medical eligibility requirements for SSI benefits.

Getting Help with your Infantile Bilateral Optic Atrophy Disability Claim

While infantile bilateral optic atrophy is a CAL approved condition and therefore more likely to be approved for disability benefits, you may still want to seek assistance in filing your claim and collecting the appropriate medical records and other documentation for proving eligibility. A Social Security advocate or attorney who is more familiar with the application and review processes can be a tremendous asset.