Child Development

Is ADHD a Disability? What to Know

This article has been medically-reviewed by:

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It is a condition characterized by clinically significant, ongoing patterns of inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms, or a combination of both. 

Inattentive symptoms may include forgetfulness, being easily distracted, losing or misplacing items needed for tasks and activities, trouble organizing tasks or activities, appearing as though one is not listening when spoken to directly, making seemingly careless mistakes, and difficulty with tasks that demand sustained mental effort, like those assigned to an individual at work or school.

Hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms can include restlessness, fidgeting, difficulty remaining seated, trouble engaging in leisure activities quietly, being on the go or acting as though one is "driven by a motor," problems waiting for one's turn, blurting out answers, interrupting other people, and excessive speech.

An individual who lives with ADHD may experience symptoms that are predominantly inattentive in nature, predominantly hyperactive or impulsive in nature, or they may experience a diagnostically relevant combination of both. Though symptoms begin in childhood, ADHD can impact people of all ages and backgrounds. The severity of ADHD can vary, and it can affect functioning in various ways. With this in mind, you may wonder: Is ADHD a disability? 

Is ADHD a Disability?

ADHD is a recognized disability. Symptoms of ADHD can cause challenges in school, the workplace, or other vital areas of life, such as self-care activities and relationships. As a result, living with ADHD might impact a person's ability to hold a job, or they may need certain accommodations in the workplace, school, or other settings.

Not everyone understands ADHD or the ways that symptoms can manifest and impact a person's life. Although people with ADHD often have many strengths and talents, this can pose significant challenges. In fact, research indicates that those who live with ADHD make 17% less than the rest of the general population.

An ADHD diagnosis may allow you to get necessary accommodations in settings such as work or school. Since ADHD is a known disability, an individual who lives with ADHD may be able to qualify for disability benefits under some circumstances. 

Qualifying for Disability Benefits

Though it is important to have a diagnosis, an individual will need more than a diagnosis of ADHD to qualify for disability benefits. This is the case for many conditions that can qualify you for disability. If you have sufficient supporting documentation, or if ADHD symptoms prevent you from working due to their severity, you may be able to receive social security disability (SSDI) benefits.

Some pieces of documentation that may help you support your case in acquiring disability benefits and other forms of help or support for ADHD include but aren't limited to:

  • Employment history 
  • Psychiatric or psychological treatment notes
  • Classroom or IEP reports
  • Report cards 
  • Diagnostic evaluation 
  • Psychological testing from a professional
  • Diagnosis of another disability or condition
  • History of taking medication prescribed to treat ADHD

In short, these things allow you to prove a need for SSDI more effectively, which increases your chances of getting the benefits you need. There are times when you may be denied benefits at first, and it is possible to re-apply. The more documentation you have, the better. If you have more than one condition that affects your ability to obtain or retain employment, this may help your case.

Learn more about qualifying for SSDI benefits with ADHD here

Legal Rights

In the United States, legal rights may vary by state to some extent. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (including the revisions made via the ADA Amendments Act of 2008) aim to protect those with disabilities in the workplace and in educational settings. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, ADHD is considered a recognized disability where an individual may be eligible to qualify for specialized instruction and services at school.

As a person with a disability, your legal rights may include but aren't limited to:

  • Protection from discrimination in the workplace.
  • Protection from discrimination in educational settings.
  • If needed, short-term or long-term benefits. 

Getting Diagnosed With ADHD

To receive accommodations for ADHD, you will need a professional diagnosis from a qualified doctor or mental health professional. If it is your child who lives with ADHD, a diagnosis may also aid you as you strive to get them the help or support they need in various settings and pursuits. There is a high genetic component to ADHD, so if you live with ADHD, it is more likely that your child will, too, though this isn't always the case.

If you think that you might have ADHD but do not yet have a diagnosis, what do you do? The first step is typically to speak with a medical or mental health professional, such as your primary care physician or a psychiatrist.

They will be able to refer you to a specialist who can provide you with an accurate assessment for ADHD and, if applicable, a diagnosis. In children, a pediatrician may be able to detect and diagnose ADHD. If not, they should be able to refer you to a professional who can. 

There are other ways to find a professional who can diagnose ADHD as well. Some universities have testing centers that screen for ADHD and other concerns, so if you're a college student, this is something to look into. It is also possible to find a provider who can give you an evaluation and diagnosis by contacting your health insurance company, using a provider directory, or searching the web for specialists in your area. A proper diagnosis may be the first step toward symptom management. 

Managing ADHD Symptoms

Though ADHD is a disability, and although one may be eligible to  receive benefits as well as various accommodations for it, it doesn't mean that everyone with ADHD is unable to work, nor does it mean that ADHD will prevent one from succeeding in other areas of life. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Many people with ADHD and other disabilities live fulfilling lives that they are proud of, and one can thrive with ADHD.

The key is to discover what works for you as a unique individual when it comes to managing ADHD symptoms. Things that can help an individual manage ADHD symptoms include but are not confined to talk therapy, medication, supportive daily routines, and other tools, such as games, a reward system, timers, and other mechanisms that help one mitigate the possible consequences of their symptoms. Finding what works for you, your child, or your family can take some trial and error. Often, a professional can help in this process. 

Takeaway

ADHD is a disorder that's recognized legally as a disability in the US and in other parts of the world. Despite this, many people with ADHD make a diverse range of achievements in life, and you can flourish if you live with ADHD. Regardless of your age of diagnosis, it is possible to learn to better manage symptoms in the vast majority of cases, and the pursuit of this goal can be highly rewarding.