You’ve been diagnosed with ADHD. You’re struggling to keep a job as your symptoms worsen. Bills are piling up. You’re wondering if applying for disability benefits could provide some relief. But does ADHD even qualify for disability benefits? Good question. Cognitive impairments like ADHD are tricky when it comes to Social Security disability benefits. While ADHD can absolutely be disabling for some people, meeting the strict criteria for benefits can be difficult.

What Is ADHD? Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that makes it difficult to focus or control impulsive behaviors. If you have ADHD, you may zone out easily, struggle with organization, or act without thinking. The good news is, with treatment, these challenges don’t have to hold you back.

The Three Types of ADHD

There are three types of ADHD:

  1. inattentive,
  2. hyperactive-impulsive,
  3. and combined.

The inattentive type makes it hard to focus. If you have the hyperactive-impulsive type, you may fidget, interrupt, and have trouble sitting still. The combined type includes symptoms from both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive types.

Common Symptoms

Some common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Trouble focusing or being easily distracted
  • Fidgeting or excessive talking
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Impulsivity and poor decision making
  • Disorganization and trouble prioritizing
  • Mood swings, irritability, or impatience

The symptoms typically appear before age 12, though you may not receive a diagnosis until later. Severity can range from mild to severe, but the good news is, with treatment, people with ADHD can thrive.

ADHD estimates by sex, race, and ethnicity:

According to the CDC;

  • Boys (15%) were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls (8%).
  • Black children and White children were more often diagnosed with ADHD (both 12%) than Asian children (4%). American Indian/Alaska Native children (10%) were also more often diagnosed with ADHD than Asian children.
  • Approximately 6% of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children were diagnosed with ADHD.
  • Overall, non-Hispanic children (12%) were diagnosed with ADHD more often than Hispanic children (10%).

adhd in kids

History of ADHD, When was it discovered?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been around for centuries, though it wasn’t always called that.
In 1902, Sir George Still described a group of impulsive children with significant behavioral problems.
But it wasn’t until the 1960s that doctors began recognizing ADHD as a legitimate disorder.

In the 1960s and 70s, doctors noticed that certain symptoms seemed to cluster together in some children. They had trouble focusing, were overly active, and struggled to control their impulses. At first, doctors called it “minimal brain dysfunction.” The first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was published in 1968 and included a diagnosis of “hyperkinetic reaction of childhood.”

It wasn’t until 1987 that ADHD appeared in the revised DSM-III.

Doctors began to recognize three subtypes:

  • predominantly inattentive type,
  • predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type,
  • and combined type.

In the 1990s, scientists developed better tools for diagnosing and treating ADHD.

Today, doctors know that ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children. While there’s still no cure, treatments like medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and accommodations can help manage symptoms and allow people with ADHD to thrive.

ADHD is a legitimate medical disorder, though some people still don’t fully understand it. But with more research and education, there is hope that the stigma surrounding ADHD will continue to decrease over time. After all, people with ADHD have just as much potential as anyone else.

They may just need a little extra support to reach their goals.

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

Inattention

If you have trouble focusing or find your mind frequently wandering, you may exhibit symptoms of inattention. Things like struggling to complete tasks, being easily distracted, losing things often or being forgetful are common signs of inattention related to ADHD. You may start tasks but have trouble seeing them through or following instructions. Sitting still for long periods or doing boring, repetitive chores can be especially challenging.

Hyperactivity

Excessive fidgeting, excessive talking and difficulty sitting still are hallmarks of hyperactive ADHD. You may feel restless and like you have boundless energy. Hyperactivity tends to be more common in children, though many adults continue to experience restlessness or the need to keep busy. Hyperactivity can make it difficult to unwind and relax.

Impulsivity

Acting without thinking, interrupting others and poor decision making are indicative of problems with impulsivity. You may engage in thrill-seeking behavior and act on cravings or sudden urges without considering the consequences. Impulsivity can negatively impact relationships, employment, finances and safety.

The symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity occur in varying degrees for each individual. Some people exhibit symptoms of all three, while others may only struggle with inattention or hyperactivity and impulsivity. The severity and specific combination of symptoms are factors used to determine appropriate treatment options, which may include therapy, lifestyle changes, medication or a combination of treatments.

Is ADHD a psychiatric and/or mental health disorder?

Yes, ADHD is classified as a psychiatric disorder. Specifically, it’s considered a neurodevelopmental mental health disorder. ADHD causes problems with focus and controlling impulses, often diagnosed during childhood. The symptoms are due to biological differences in brain development and the chemicals in the brain that influence attention and self-control.

Neurological basis

ADHD has a neurological basis. Studies show differences in brain structure and function between people with and without ADHD. The brains of those with ADHD mature at a slower rate in areas important for attention and self-regulation. There are also differences in connections between regions involved in attention, planning, and controlling movement. These connectivity issues may influence the ability to focus and control impulses.

Genetic component

Twin and family studies also suggest that ADHD has a strong genetic component. The disorder tends to run in families and identical twins are significantly more likely to share an ADHD diagnosis than fraternal twins. Specific genes that may be involved in ADHD are still being identified. However, genetics are not the only factor – environment and lifestyle also play a role in the development and severity of symptoms.

Recognized in major diagnostic manuals

ADHD is included in standard diagnostic manuals for mental health disorders, including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). To receive an ADHD diagnosis, symptoms must significantly impair functioning in two or more settings (e.g. home and work), and alternative explanations must be ruled out. Proper assessment and diagnosis are important to determine appropriate treatment options.

In summary, ADHD is considered a legitimate psychiatric disorder with neurological underpinnings and a genetic component. When accurately diagnosed and treated, people with ADHD can thrive and live successful lives.

ADHD in Kids vs Adults

Children with ADHD might struggle to focus on tasks, forget homework, and frequently lose personal items. Hyperactivity in kids is marked by fidgeting, excessive talking, and an inability to stay seated, while impulsivity often leads to blurting out answers and difficulty waiting their turn. These behaviors significantly impact their academic performance, social interactions, and self-esteem, as they may face criticism and feel unsuccessful compared to their peers.

In adults, ADHD symptoms evolve and may become less overt but equally impactful. Inattention in adults can lead to poor time management, missed deadlines, and difficulty organizing tasks. Hyperactivity might manifest as internal restlessness rather than physical activity, and impulsivity can result in hasty decision-making and risk-taking behaviors. These challenges affect professional and personal relationships, contributing to job instability, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Adults often develop coping mechanisms like using planners and reminders, which children might not yet master.

Is ADHD Considered a Disability?

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is recognized as a disability under federal law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals with ADHD and entitles them to reasonable accommodation and protection from discrimination.

According to CDC;

An estimated 7 million (11.4%) U.S. children aged 3–17 years have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, according to a national survey of parents using data from 2022.

ADA Recognition

The ADA recognizes ADHD as a disability if it substantially limits at least one major life activity, such as learning, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. For ADHD to qualify as a disability under the ADA, you must provide documentation from a doctor describing how your symptoms limit certain activities.

With an official diagnosis and documentation, you may be entitled to workplace accommodations like a private space to work, extended time for tasks, a structured schedule, or a job coach. You can also receive accommodations for school, such as extra time for exams, a separate testing area, copies of notes, or audio books.

Social Security Disability Benefits

If your ADHD symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from working and earning a living, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. To receive disability benefits for ADHD, your symptoms must significantly limit your ability to function normally and prevent gainful employment. The Social Security Administration will evaluate medical records, reports from your doctors, and accounts of how your symptoms impact daily activities when determining eligibility.

While ADHD is considered a disability under the law, that does not mean you cannot live an active, successful life. With proper treatment and support, many individuals with ADHD thrive in school, their careers, and relationships. But knowing your rights and the accommodations available to you can help overcome challenges along the way.

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits for ADHD

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits for ADHD, your symptoms must significantly limit your ability to work. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes ADHD as a “mental disorder” that can be disabling. However, ADHD alone does not automatically qualify you for benefits.

Your symptoms must be severe

Your ADHD symptoms must be quite severe to qualify for disability benefits. This could include extreme difficulty concentrating or completing tasks, intense hyperactivity or impulsivity that disrupts your life, or side effects from medications that prevent you from working.

Your condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least one year.

To receive disability benefits for ADHD, your symptoms must have lasted or be expected to last for at least 12 months. The SSA will look at how long you’ve had symptoms that limit your ability to work and if your condition is expected to improve within a year.

Your ability to work must be significantly limited

The most important criteria for qualifying for disability benefits is proving that your ADHD symptoms prevent you from being able to work and earn a living. The SSA will evaluate how well you can concentrate, follow instructions, interact with others, and handle workplace stress and changes. They will consider input from doctors, therapists, and former employers regarding how your condition specifically limits your ability to work.

While receiving disability benefits for ADHD can be challenging, many people are approved each year. Speaking with doctors about your limitations, providing a well-documented medical history, and being very specific in detailing how ADHD impacts your ability to work can help strengthen your case. Don’t get discouraged if you face denials at first, as many applicants go through the appeals process. Staying persistent and working with your doctors and therapists can pay off.

Applying for Disability Benefits With an ADHD Diagnosis

If you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The key is showing how your ADHD symptoms limit your ability to work. ###Focus and Impulsiveness Challenges ADHD makes it difficult to focus, follow instructions, handle distractions, and control impulses. Explain how these challenges impact your work performance and attendance. Provide examples of times you’ve struggled in past jobs. Your doctor or therapist can also submit a statement confirming your diagnosis and describing your limitations.

Accommodations and Treatment

Discuss accommodations you’ve requested to help you perform your job, like a quiet space to work or written instructions. Note any treatments you’ve tried and how they haven’t adequately controlled your symptoms. Be prepared to provide medical records and test results to support your claims.

Work History

Your work history will be reviewed to look for a pattern of difficulties that align with your ADHD symptoms. Short job tenure, frequent job changes, poor performance reviews, and a history of being fired can all support your case. Former employers and co-workers may be contacted to provide statements on your behalf.

The key is demonstrating how ADHD significantly impacts your day-to-day life and ability to sustain full-time work. It can take time and require appeals, but with medical evidence and a documented pattern of impairment, you have a good chance of being approved for disability benefits due to ADHD.

Staying on treatment and attempting work when able also shows your condition is ongoing, despite your best efforts. Don’t get discouraged—many with ADHD do eventually get approved with persistence and a well-documented case.

Keep advocating for yourself and your right to benefits. Your ADHD is real and it impacts your life, even if you can’t see it.