Current course:  SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) Online Course: Adult Curriculum

Sample Functional Descriptions

This article provides example descriptions for the areas of mental functioning.  The “effective” functional descriptions clearly link the symptoms of the applicant’s illness with their limitations.

Read the ineffective description and see if you can identify what doesn't work well. Then read the effective description and see how it is improved.
Understand, Remember, or Apply Information
Ineffective Description
Peter works a few hours a week and has some support at work and home. He likes his job. He can get confused sometimes, but is better when people explain things to him.
What makes this an ineffective description?
  • Lack of detail about the type and amount of support Peter receives at home and work
  • It is unclear what types of things confuse Peter and if this is related to symptoms of a mental disorder
Effective Description
Peter requires extensive supports at home and work in order to complete multi-step tasks, and frequently appears confused and asks this writer to re-phrase questions during interviews. Peter has a job coach at Home Store, where he works two hours per day, two days a week. Peter states, “I like this job. I get confused sometimes, but they help me a lot. Before I had my coach I messed up a lot.” Peter also requires significant supports at home from a home health aide, who cleans his apartment, shops for food, and cooks meals. Records from Health Aide, Inc. document, “ needs extensive support managing multi-step tasks in his daily living.”
What makes this description effective?
  • Numerous details about the support that Peter receives to be able to sustain work
  • Detailed examples about his supports at home and references medical records
  • It is clear that Peter needs extensive supports in order to function in this area
Interact with Others
Ineffective Description
Ms. Waves has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She speaks very quickly, loses her temper, and gets into shouting matches with people. Sometimes, she stays by herself and does nothing. Often she acts differently on different occasions. People around her don't know how she'll be from one day to another.
What makes this an ineffective description?
  • This is improved from the ADL example because it suggests that these behaviors might be related to her bipolar disorder.
  • Yet, it does not clearly illustrate the link between illness and impairment. 
  • A person might conclude that Ms. Waves’ bipolar disorder causes some of her difficulties, but the effective description is much clearer.
Effective Description
Ms. Waves finds that her mood swings are so unpredictable and severe that she never can predict how she will feel. When she is manic, no one can follow her conversation, as her speech and thoughts race so quickly. She quickly becomes irritable with anyone she interacts with and often winds up losing her temper and getting into shouting matches with other people. When she is depressed, all she wants is to be alone and do nothing. She finds that her mood swings can happen within a day's time, leaving her feeling terribly confused and out-of-control.
What makes this one effective?
  • The mood swings are clearly described and linked to Ms. Waves’ bipolar disorder.
  • A person can see how the symptoms of mania and depression affect her functioning.
  • It describes her interactions with others; the ability to interact appropriately is important to being able to work.
Concentrate, Persist, or Maintain Pace
Ineffective Description
Mr. Washington lost his job as a mechanic. He would get angry, confused, and depressed. He often accused his colleagues of talking behind his back and said that this made it difficult for him to get his work done. 
What makes this an ineffective description?
  • It is unclear how the anger, confusion, or depression are related to any mental illness.
  • It is unclear that cognitive difficulties, not just an inability to get along with others, interfere with his job performance.
Effective Description
Mr. Washington did well in high school and trade school. After his internship at Max’s Auto Shop, he was hired as a mechanic and worked there for four years. He initially received a great deal of praise from his supervisor. At age 24, his symptoms of schizophrenia began to emerge. Mr. Washington became increasingly paranoid and depressed and began to hear voices. “I couldn’t concentrate because people were whispering about me.” “I’m always afraid and sometimes I’m terrified. The whole crew tried to make me look bad so they could give my job to some friend of theirs.” As a result of his symptoms, it became difficult for him to complete tasks at work. His supervisor described one time when he was expected to do an oil change, a job that should take 20 minutes. "Joachim would work for 10 minutes or so, get confused and have to start over again. It took him almost two hours to do a simple oil change, and he wasted so many supplies! Eventually, I had to let him go." 
What makes this one effective?
  • The change in performance is described.
  • It is clear that the symptoms are interfering with his cognitive abilities.
  • It describes how the interference in cognitive abilities relates to his difficulties with work.
  • It uses direct quotes from the applicant and collateral source.
Adapt or Manage Oneself
Ineffective Description
Susan doesn’t like change. She likes her routine and can get upset with others when things change. She says that when people change things it makes her upset and other people have a problem with that.
What makes this an ineffective description?
  • It does not make a clear link between her symptoms and impairments
  • There is limited information about how this has impacted her ability to maintain employment
Effective Description
Susan experiences significant difficulties adjusting to changes in her schedule or routine. When asked to temporarily change job duties at work from cashier to stocker, she was sent home after yelling at her boss. She explains, “He couldn’t just do that. He has no right to change things on me…He said I was yelling, but he was the one in the wrong!” When this writer needed to re-schedule an appointment with Susan over the phone, she became highly agitated and yelled, “It’s this stuff that ruins my life!” before hanging up.
What makes this description effective?
  • The detailed use of quotes and information from the employer illustrates how her symptoms caused her to be sent home from work
  • Her inability to adapt to changing tasks at work is directly linked to difficulties at work
  • The case manager’s observations provide a good example of Susan’s difficulties in managing change