Is ADHD a Disability?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that affects about 8% of children and 2% of adults. This condition causes difficulty paying attention and/or impulsive or hyperactive behavior. In some cases, ADHD can be considered to be a disability—a condition that makes it difficult for a person to do daily activities and function effectively in a school or work environment.

This article discusses ADHD as a potential disability, how to get diagnosed, benefits that a person with this condition could qualify for, and accommodations that are available in the workplace.

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Is ADHD a Developmental Disability?

ADHD is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder—a condition that affects the brain as it is developing. Symptoms of ADHD typically appear in childhood and continue into adulthood.

Symptoms of ADHD in children can include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Daydreaming
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Conflicts with peers
  • Excessive talking
  • Squirming and fidgeting
  • Risk-taking

If a person's symptoms of ADHD are severe enough to interfere with their function at school or in the workplace, ADHD can be considered a developmental disability. A developmental disability is any condition that occurs during child development that negatively impacts daily function. These conditions can affect behavior, learning, motor skills, or language development.

Is ADHD a Learning Disability?

ADHD is not a learning disability, but many children who are diagnosed with ADHD also have learning disabilities. In addition, ADHD can have a big impact on a child's ability to learn—difficulty paying attention, inability to sit still for long periods of time, and impulsivity have negative effects on education.

Although ADHD is not a learning disability, it is a recognized disability that can qualify a student for accommodations at school, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Accommodations for students with ADHD can include:

  • Extra time to complete assignments and tests
  • Frequent breaks to allow the child to move around
  • Quiet learning environment outside the classroom
  • Shorter assignments
  • Assistance with organization

Legal Rights in the Workplace

ADHD is a diagnosis that frequently continues into adulthood, and often causes issues in the workplace. One of the main symptoms of ADHD that affects people in the work environment is difficulty paying attention.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that helps protect people with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. This law requires employers with 15 or more employees to make "reasonable accommodations" for people with disabilities to help them be successful in the workplace.

Having a diagnosis of ADHD does not automatically provide you with protection under the ADA. You'll need a healthcare professional to verify that you are disabled by your condition first.

Getting Diagnosed With ADHD

Symptoms of ADHD might first be noticed by a child's parents and teachers. Diagnosis of ADHD is often made by the child's healthcare provider, such as a pediatrician. According to one 2019 survey, around 30% of children with ADHD are diagnosed by the age of 6.

ADHD is also diagnosed by mental health professionals, using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Criteria for diagnosing ADHD are based on consistent demonstration of inattention and/or impulsivity or hyperactivity.

Symptoms of inattention can include:

  • Difficulty paying attention during tasks
  • Mistakes in schoolwork
  • Not completing tasks that have been started
  • Easily distracted
  • Avoiding activities that require concentration
  • Losing items
  • Forgetfulness
  • Being unorganized

Hyperactive/impulsive behavior can include:

  • Difficulty taking turns
  • Interrupting
  • Excessive talking
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Tapping hands or feet
  • Difficulty playing quietly
  • Running instead of walking

Qualifying for Disability Benefits

In some cases, children with ADHD might qualify for federal disability benefits—Supplemental Security Income (SSI) through the Social Security Administration. However, there are strict requirements for qualification—the child's condition must cause "marked and severe functional limitations" and symptoms must have lasted for a least one year.

Similar requirements are in place for an adult with ADHD to receive federal benefits—the condition must cause an inability to do any "substantial gainful activity" and have lasted for at least a year.

Applications for disability benefits are considered on a case-by-case basis. For more information, visit the Social Security Administration website.

Managing ADHD Symptoms

Treatments such as therapy and medications can be effective for managing symptoms of ADHD. Therapy focuses on helping children learn to manage their behaviors. This may include frequent positive feedback for appropriate behaviors and consistent consequences for inappropriate behaviors.

Therapists often work closely with parents to ensure that treatment techniques are carried over into all of the child's environments.

Adults with ADHD can also benefit from therapy to help develop time management and organizational skills.

Medications used to treat ADHD fall into two categories—non-stimulants and stimulants.

  • Stimulants: These drugs increase activity in the brain. Common stimulants used to treat ADHD include Concerta or Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Adderall and Vyvanse (amphetamines).
  • Non-stimulants: These agents can be used for people who do not tolerate stimulants. Examples include Strattera (atomoxetine), Qelbree (viloxazine), and Intuniv (guanfacine).

Summary

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that is typically diagnosed in childhood, with symptoms that often continue into adulthood. These symptoms—such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior—can cause significant issues in school and work environments.

ADHD is considered a developmental disability, not a learning disability. Accommodations can often be made in the classroom or work environment to help people with ADHD be more successful. Therapy and medications are also helpful for managing the symptoms of ADHD.

If symptoms are severe, a person with ADHD might qualify for federal benefits, but this is determined on a case-by-case basis.

A Word From Verywell 

If you suspect that your child might have ADHD, talk to their healthcare provider about an assessment and treatments that are available. The earlier these symptoms are recognized, the faster the interventions can be put in place to help your child succeed in school and at home.

Talk to your child's school about accommodations that are available to help your child learn more effectively. This can significantly reduce frustration and negative behaviors that are impacting their ability to learn. Consider seeing a therapist for family therapy for tips on managing behaviors at home as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are you qualified to receive disability benefits with ADHD?

    Adults or children with ADHD are sometimes eligible for federal disability benefits, but strict qualifications must be met. Visit the Social Security Administration website to review the requirements and access an application.

  • Would ADHD be considered a disability in school?

    ADHD can be considered to be a disability in school if symptoms impair the child's ability to receive an education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides accommodations to help students with disabilities be successful in the school environment.

  • Should I disclose my ADHD diagnosis at work?

    If your ADHD symptoms impair your ability to do your job effectively, you might consider discussing your diagnosis with your employer to see if accommodations can be made.

  • What could happen if you leave ADHD untreated?

    Symptoms of ADHD can continue to worsen if left untreated. Inattention and impulsive behaviors can cause problems in all aspects of a person's life—work, relationships, finances, and more. However, for some people, symptoms can stay the same or even improve without treatment.

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11 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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