Is ADHD a Disability?
In This Article
What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition. The neurodevelopmental disorder includes persistent problems, including difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior.
Many adults with ADHD aren't aware they have the condition. They just know that everyday tasks can be a challenge. In many cases, ADHD isn’t recognized or diagnosed until the person is an adult.
Adult ADHD can contribute to:
- Unstable relationships
- Poor work or school performance
- Low self-esteem
- Other issues
Those with ADHD may find it challenging to focus and prioritize, leading to missed deadlines and forgotten meetings or social plans. There is a broad spectrum of how this disorder presents in different people, from inattention with minor difficulties to severely incapacitating and debilitating.
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Is ADHD a Disability? Qualifications, Rights, & Benefits
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is recognized as a type of disability under several laws in the United States.
These laws include the:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Each law has different definitions and regulations. However, they generally acknowledge that people with ADHD can experience substantial limitations in major life activities. These activities include learning, concentrating, and interacting with others.
ADHD as a Developmental Disability
A developmental disability is a condition that occurs during child development and adversely impacts daily function.
If a person’s symptoms are severe enough to affect their function at school or work, ADHD can be considered a developmental disability.2
Development disabilities can affect:
- Motor skills
- Language development
ADHD as a Learning Disability
Learning disabilities are conditions that affect the ability to understand or use spoken or written language.
ADHD isn’t a learning disability. However, many children diagnosed with ADHD also have learning disabilities. Additionally, ADHD can significantly impact a child’s ability to learn.4
Children with ADHD are more likely to:
- Have issues paying attention
- Be unable to sit still for long periods
- Have impulsivity that negatively affects their education
How Do You Qualify for ADHD Disability?
An ADHD diagnosis alone isn’t enough to qualify for benefits. As a child, you must have had measurable functional impairments showing up as recurring poor performance in school. As an adult, you must have measurable functional impairments that stop you from working.
You’ll need to show, with verifiable medical documentation, that you have the following symptoms:
- Marked inattention
- Marked impulsiveness
- Marked hyperactivity
You’ll also need to prove that you’re impaired in certain cognitive, social, or personal functioning areas. You’ll likely need to include medical documents, a psychological evaluation, or notes from a therapist.
ADHD Symptoms and Treatment
Adult ADHD symptoms may not be as apparent as those in children. In adults, hyperactivity may be reduced. However, problems with impulsiveness, restlessness, and attention issues may continue.
Symptoms can include:1
- Poor time management skills
- Poor coordination
- Issues focusing on a task
- Trouble multitasking
- Excessive activity or restlessness
- Poor planning
- Low frustration tolerance
- Frequent mood swings
- Issues following through and completing tasks
- Hot temper
- Trouble coping with stress
Some people with ADHD have fewer symptoms as they age. However, some adults continue to have significant symptoms that interfere with daily functioning.
ADHD treatment includes:
- Psychological counseling (psychotherapy)
- Treatment for any co-occurring mental disorders
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What Are ADHD Disability Benefits?
ADHD benefits refer to the financial assistance provided to people whose ADHD is severe enough to limit their ability to function in major life activities, including work.
These benefits help cover:
- Living expenses
- Medical fees
- Other necessities
Generally, disability payments are considered on a case-by-case basis.
Several factors will be considered, including your:
- Work history
- Medical history
- Other factors
Adults who prove they were treated for ADHD as a child may be more likely to be considered for benefits.
Social Security Disability Benefits for ADHD
If you or your child struggles with severe ADHD symptoms, you may qualify for federal benefits.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits
For example, supplemental security income (SSI) under the federal Social Security program helps children under 18 with severe chronic conditions. Children and parents must meet strict income requirements to qualify for SSI.
ADHD must also affect the person to an extreme degree for at least 12 months. If your child’s ADHD has affected your or their ability to function correctly, you may qualify for these resources.
Social Security Disability (SSD)
Adults with severe ADHD symptoms may be able to receive Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. If you feel that the condition has prevented you from keeping a job or working because of the severity of your symptoms, you may be eligible.
Before applying for any ADHD benefits, you should gather any acceptable documentation, medical or otherwise, that may help prove the impairment you’ve experienced.
Educational Accommodations for Students with ADHD
ADHD Accommodations in School Settings
ADHD isn’t a learning disability. However, it’s recognized as a disability that can qualify a student for accommodations at school. This would be under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Accommodations for students with ADHD can include:3
- Extra time to finish assignments and tests
- Frequent breaks to allow the student to move around
- A quiet learning environment outside the classroom
- Shorter assignments
- Assistance with organization
Federal law protects students from disability discrimination. Students with ADHD may be eligible for special education or related aids or services from their school district.
How ADHD Impacts Academic Performance
ADHD can significantly impact academic performance due to its effects on cognitive and behavioral functioning.
- Inattention: Students with ADHD often have issues focusing on tasks, especially those that are lengthy or considered uninteresting. This can make it difficult for some students to pay attention during lectures, read long passages, or finish assignments.
- Impulsivity: Impulsivity can lead to issues like acting out in class, interrupting others, or rushing through assignments and making careless mistakes.
- Hyperactivity: Students with ADHD may have difficulty staying seated, fidget often, or feel restless. This can be distracting to the student and others around them.
- Organizational skills: ADHD can affect people’s ability to organize tasks and materials, manage their time effectively, and plan projects. They might often forget to complete homework, lose school materials, or procrastinate on assignments.
- Executive functioning: ADHD can affect executive functions. These are the mental skills that help people get things done. For example, working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. Difficulties with these skills can make it hard for students to follow multi-step instructions, switch from one task to another, or regulate their emotions and behavior.
- Social skills: Students with ADHD may struggle with forming and maintaining social relationships. They might act impulsively or have issues reading social cues. This can lead to social isolation or conflicts with peers.
- Coexisting conditions: It's common for students with ADHD to have coexisting conditions which can further impact their academic performance. For example, learning disabilities, anxiety, or depression.
These challenges can create significant obstacles for students with ADHD. However, it's important to remember that students with ADHD can succeed academically.
With the proper support and interventions, students with ADHD can manage their symptoms and grow in an academic environment. Many resources and strategies are available to help these students and their families navigate the education system.
- Individualized education plans (IEPs)
- Classroom accommodations
- Behavior management strategies
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Frequently Asked Questions About ADHD and Disability
Is ADHD a Disability Under Social Security?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be considered a disability under the Social Security Administration’s guidelines. However, it must meet specific criteria.
ADHD isn’t explicitly listed in the SSA's ‘Blue Book,’ which outlines impairments automatically qualifying for benefits. However, someone with severe symptoms might still be eligible.
For children, their ADHD condition might fall under ‘neurodevelopmental disorders.’ It could be evaluated for adults under various categories, including neurocognitive disorders or affective disorders.
If the ADHD condition doesn't meet the criteria of a specific listing, the SSA evaluates the claim using a ‘residual functional capacity’ assessment. This assessment determines what kind of work the person can do.
However, the process is complex. It requires extensive medical evidence demonstrating that ADHD significantly limits the person's ability to function and that they have lasted, or are expected to last, at least one year.
Can You Get Disability Benefits if Your Child Has ADHD or ADD?
Yes, it’s possible to receive disability benefits for a child with ADHD through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict criteria.
Your child's ADHD must cause severe functional limitations. It must have also lasted or been expected to last at least one year.
Additionally, the family's income and resources must fall within the limits set by the SSA. Even if these requirements are met, approval isn't guaranteed.
The SSA considers the overall impact of the disorder on the child's life. Appropriate documentation is essential for a successful application. This includes evidence of ongoing treatment and how ADHD impacts the child's daily activities and school performance.
It's often beneficial to seek assistance from professionals familiar with the SSA's processes and requirements.
Is ADHD Considered a Disability in the Workplace?
Yes, ADHD can be considered a disability in the workplace under certain circumstances. According to the ADA, a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment significantly limiting one or more major life activities. This can include learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating.
If an employee's ADHD significantly impacts these or other related activities and their ability to work, it could be recognized as a disability.
As such, the person would be entitled to reasonable accommodations to help them perform their job duties. For example, changes to their work environment or adjustments to work policies.
However, the employee usually needs to request these accommodations. They may need to provide acceptable medical documentation of their ADHD diagnosis and its impact on their job.
Is ADHD Genetic?
ADHD tends to run in families, and there appears to be a strong genetic link. While researchers acknowledge that some genetic variants increase a person’s risk of ADHD, they don’t fully understand whether some genes require environmental triggers to switch on.
Due to the complexity of ADHD, researchers are yet to discover a causal relationship with a particular gene or set of genes. This suggests that a person’s environment also significantly affects their likelihood of developing ADHD.
- ADHD is a mental health condition. It causes difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It can significantly affect work, relationships, and self-esteem.
- ADHD is recognized as a disability under several laws. It can be considered a developmental disability if it severely impacts school or work performance.
- To qualify for ADHD disability benefits, a person must show measurable functional impairments using acceptable supporting documentation.
- ADHD can significantly impact academic performance. Educational accommodations are available for students with ADHD.
- Despite ADHD's challenges, appropriate support, interventions, and treatment can help people manage symptoms and succeed academically and at work.
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- Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Mayo Clinic, 2023
- Facts About Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2022
- ADHD in the Classroom: Helping Children Succeed in School, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2022
- Drechsler, Renate et al. “ADHD: Current Concepts and Treatments in Children and Adolescents.” Neuropediatrics, 2020
- ADHD in college students, Texas A&M University, 2021
- Sawhney et al. “Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in people with intellectual disability: statistical approach to developing a bespoke screening tool.” BJPsych, 2021.