Is ADHD a Disability?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. In 2016, an estimated 6.1 million (9.4%) of U.S. children ages 2–17 years had received an ADHD diagnosis.

People living with ADHD may have trouble focusing or paying attention and may be hyperactive and impulsive. These behaviors can have a significant impact on school, work, and personal lives.

Read on to learn what level of impairment qualifies ADHD as a disability and what this means in terms of reasonable accommodations for you or your child.

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Is ADHD a Developmental Disability?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers ADHD to be a neurodevelopmental disability.

Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions that describe impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavioral areas. They may affect attention, memory, problem-solving, or social interaction.

ADHD may be mild and easily manageable, or it may be more severe, and you may require more support at school or work.

Is ADHD a Learning Disability?

ADHD is not a learning disability, but it can make learning difficult. For example, it is hard to learn when you struggle to focus on what your teacher is saying or when you can’t seem to be able to sit down and pay attention to a task.

Many people with ADHD can struggle with learning and schoolwork because of problems related to their ADHD, yet they do not have enough of an impairment to be diagnosed with a learning disability.

Legal Rights in the Workplace

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to protect employees with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace.

The ADA considers a person to have a disability if:

  • They have a physical or mental impairment that considerably limits one or more major life activities (such as work)
  • There is a record of this impairment or they are perceived by others to have an impairment.

The ADA requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities, including ADHD. For example, your employer could allow you to use headphones or earplugs to block out distractions or give you tasks broken down into clear, bite-sized steps.

To obtain protection under the ADA, employees must demonstrate how the disability substantially impairs their life and that they are otherwise qualified to perform the job.

Recap

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to protect employees with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. The ADA requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities, including ADHD.

Getting Diagnosed With ADHD

There are several types of professionals who are qualified to diagnose ADHD. A mental health professional, a social worker, and some physicians can diagnose ADHD. Before booking an appointment, ask specifically if the care provider has experience diagnosing ADHD.

There’s not a single test that can tell if you or your child has ADHD. For a person to receive an ADHD diagnosis, the symptoms must be chronic or long lasting, impair the person’s functioning, and in the case of a child, cause them to fall behind typical development for their age.

During the evaluation, a professional gathers information about you or your child to determine if the criteria for ADHD are met. The criteria come from the fifth editon of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the official diagnostic guide used in the United States.

If you suspect that you or your child has ADHD, talk with a doctor about getting an evaluation.

Recap

There is not a single test to diagnose ADHD. Doctors gather information about you or your child's symptoms and use diagnostic criteria set out in the DSM-5 to diagnose ADHD.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits

If you or your child is struggling with symptoms of severe ADHD, you may qualify for federal benefits. For example, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can help children under the age of 18 who are affected by severe chronic conditions.

In general, disability payments are considered on a case-by-case basis. To qualify for SSI, children and parents need to meet strict income requirements. The condition must affect the person to an extreme degree for at least 12 months. If your child’s ADHD has affected their ability to function effectively, you may qualify for these resources.

Adults with severe ADHD symptoms may be able to receive SSI payments. If you feel that the disorder has prevented you from keeping a job or working because of the severity of your symptoms, you may be eligible.

Before applying, you should gather all the necessary documentation, medical or otherwise, that can help demonstrate the impairment you have experienced.

Recap

If you or your child is struggling with symptoms of severe ADHD, you may qualify for federal benefits. In general, disability payments are considered on a case-by-case basis, and you will need to provide evidence that ADHD has a significant effect on your life to apply.

Managing ADHD Symptoms

Although there is no cure for ADHD, treatments may help reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life. ADHD is commonly treated with medication, education or training, therapy, or a combination of treatments.

In addition to these treatments, other strategies may help manage symptoms. These include:

  • Get regular exercise, especially when they seem restless.
  • Eat regular, healthy meals.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Stick to a routine.
  • Use homework and notebook organizers to write down assignments and reminders.

Recap

ADHD is typically treated with medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. Lifestyle factors like getting a good night's sleep, regular exercise and a healthy diet may help manage symptoms.

Summary

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can have a significant impact on school, work, and personal life. At work, you may be able to seek adjustments to your working environment under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If you or your child's life is severely affected by ADHD, you may be entitled to disability benefits. In order to apply, you will need evidence to show that ADHD has impacted your life in a significant way.

A Word from Verywell 

ADHD is highly treatable, but it can still make schoolwork and employment difficult. You may be entitled to government help if the condition has left you unable to work.

If you have questions about whether you may qualify for federal benefits or what information you will need to apply, the Social Security Administration provides a useful guide.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are you qualified to receive disability benefits with ADHD?

    ADHD is considered a disability in the United States, with strict stipulations. ADHD is considered a protected disability if it is severe and interferes with your ability to work or participate in the public sector. If ADHD is mild, then you are unlikely to receive benefits from federal or state governments.

  • Would ADHD be considered a disability in school?

    ADHD is not considered to be a learning disability. However, it may be considered a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), making a student eligible to receive special education services.

  • Should I disclose my ADHD diagnosis at work?

    You may wish to disclose your diagnosis so you can ask for accommodations to be made in the workplace. To seek protection under the ADA, you need to disclose your diagnosis and show that ADHD “substantially limits a major life activity”—in this case, your job.

  • What could happen if you leave ADHD untreated?

    Children with untreated ADHD may face problems at home and at school. Because ADHD can make it hard for children to pay attention in class, they may fall behind or get poor grades. Studies have shown that in adulthood, untreated ADHD can lead to drug use/addictive behavior, low self-esteem, and antisocial behavior.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. ADA National Network. What is the definition of disability under the ADA? 

  3. ADA National Network. Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD.

  5. Social Security Administration. Understanding SSI - SSI for Children.

  6. CDC. Treatment of ADHD.

  7. Learning Disabilities Association of America. ADHD.

  8. Shaw, M., Hodgkins, P., Caci, H. et al. A systematic review and analysis of long-term outcomes in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: effects of treatment and non-treatmentBMC Med 10, 99 (2012). doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-99