Can attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) be classified as a disability? The answer is not a simple one. Learn more about the circumstances behind an ADHD disability classification.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that mostly affects children but can also be diagnosed later in life. A person with ADHD exhibits signs of being impulsive, inattentive for long periods, frequent procrastination, periodic bouts of hyperactivity or problems starting and completing tasks. Depending on the severity of ADHD, individuals may have trouble functioning normally in everyday life, even with medication.

In many cases, a diagnosis of ADHD has long-term ramifications for the individual at school, in the workplace or during interactions with others. A question, therefore, arises as to whether or not ADHD is considered a disability. Unfortunately, the answer is not a simple one. In order to address if ADHD is a mental disability, a complete understanding of the specific disability qualifications is necessary.

Article at a Glance:

  • ADHD is considered to be a disability in the U.S. under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, with some stipulations.
  • ADHD is only a protected disability when it interferes with a person’s ability to work and participate in society but not for mild conditions that don’t interfere with functionality.
  • The Centers for Disease Control considers ADHD to be a developmental disability.
  • The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke does not consider ADHD to be a learning disability.
  • It may be possible to receive disability benefits if you or your child has ADHD.

ADHD and the Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that went into effect in 1990 to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The overall goal of the ADA is to make discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the public sector illegal. Thus, people with disabilities receive equal opportunities and the same protections as everyone else regardless of ethnicity, sex, age, religion and other criteria.

Is ADHD a disability under the ADA? Under both the ADA and another law known as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, ADHD is considered a disability in the United States, but with strict stipulations. For instance, ADHD is considered a protected disability if it is severe and interferes with a person’s ability to work or participate in the public sector. If, however, ADHD is mild or does not interfere with a person’s ability to function in society, then they are not likely to receive benefits from federal or state governments.

Is ADHD a Developmental Disability?

Yes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ADHD is among the most common developmental disorders for children, impacting neurodevelopment. Along with autism, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, vision impairment and others, ADHD is also considered a developmental disability.

Is ADHD a Learning Disability?

Learning disabilities are defined as a subtype of developmental disabilities. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a person with a learning disability has difficulty understanding either written or spoken word, and performing calculations and other tasks.

According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, ADHD is not considered a learning disability. However, research suggests that up to half of all children with ADHD also have a concurrent learning disability that can make learning particularly challenging for those individuals.

ADHD and Cognitive Disability

Another type of disability that is commonly associated with ADHD is known as a cognitive disability. Cognitive disabilities are defined as a limiting condition where an individual has slower mental aptitude and functioning. People with cognitive disabilities may have difficulty learning and take longer to develop than their normal counterparts. These individuals may require assistance to function in society for the entirety of their lives. So, is ADHD a cognitive disability? Currently, many features of ADHD echo mild cognitive impairment. However, the answer to this question depends on the medical practitioner who diagnoses these conditions. Some medical professionals think that yes, ADHD can be considered a cognitive disability, while others distinguish the two conditions as separate.

Can Someone Receive Disability Benefits for ADHD?

Since ADHD is a disability, can people with the disorder receive disability benefits? The short answer is yes, an individual can receive disability benefits for ADHD. However, there are very strict rules about whether a person with ADHD qualifies for benefits under the United States government. First, the process for filing social security disability with a diagnosis of ADHD can be lengthy. In order to obtain social security disability income (SSDI) for ADHD, individuals must have been diagnosed with the condition since childhood. Additionally, a person must be able to prove that their ability to participate in schoolwork or to maintain a job was severely hindered by their diagnosis.

A government official will examine school performance and look for patterns suggesting severe functional impairments during childhood and into adulthood via medical documents, standardized test scores and life history. In addition, several other requirements must be met in order to qualify for social security disability including:

  • The individual must have documentation from a medical professional of an ADHD diagnosis, with the following symptoms: inattentiveness, impulsiveness and hyperactivity
  • The person must have documentation that two of three conditions were a direct result of ADHD: problems with communicating, functioning in social settings or functioning in one’s personal life relative to people of the same age

It should be noted that receiving social security benefits for an ADHD disability can be difficult unless substantial evidence suggests that this diagnosis has significantly impaired a person’s ability to function in everyday life.

Receiving Benefits for a Child With ADHD

Receiving benefits for an adult with ADHD is a very similar process for children. The same conditions must be fulfilled for a child to receive SSDI or an alternative benefit known as supplemental security income (SSI). Unless a child has a parent who is also collecting SSDI benefits, they will not receive these benefits. Instead, SSI helps both children and adults who are disabled and cannot successfully earn a living or earn too little to make ends meet. The goal of social security benefits for a child with ADHD is to help family members with their care.

While ADHD is considered a disability for a child, in order to be considered for government disability benefits, children must meet specific criteria similar to their adult counterparts.

Managing ADHD

Depending on the severity of ADHD, this condition can be managed using a variety of strategies. Given that ADHD is treated very differently in children than adults, some strategies may be more effective than others. Strategies to manage ADHD include:

If you or a loved one struggle with managing ADHD and a co-occurring addiction, The Recovery Village can help. Call today to speak with a representative to discuss the best options for treating both ADHD and addiction together.

If you’re struggling with ADD, ADHD, or other learning disabilities, the Nobu app might be a helpful tool to add to your treatment plan. It is free and for anyone that is looking to reduce anxiety, work through depression, build self-esteem, get aftercare following treatment, attend teletherapy sessions and so much more. Download the Nobu app today!

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Editor – Gretchen Koebbe
Gretchen Koebbe is a writing and reading specialist based out of Detroit. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD
Bonnie is a medical communications specialist at Boston Strategic Partners, a global health industry consulting firm. Her recent work in mental health includes developing conference materials for clinical studies in mood disorders and copy-editing clinical manuscripts. Read more

ADA National Network. “What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?” June 2019. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Clarke, Molly. “Social Security Disability Benefits for […]ildren with ADD/ADHD.” The A.D.D. Resource Center, August 20, 2013. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Facts About Developmental Disabilities.” April 17, 2018. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?” May 3, 2018. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Disability Benefits Help. “ADHD and Social Security Disability.” (n.d.) Accessed June 28, 2019.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Recognizing and managing ADHD in adults.” November 2009. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Learning Disabilities Association of America. “ADHD.”(n.d.). Accessed June 28, 2019.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Learning Disabilities Information Page.” March 27, 2019. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Noor, Asha. “ADHD and the Protection Under the Americ[…]ith Disabilities Act.” Disability Resource Community (n.d.) Accessed June 28, 2019.

Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities. “Cognitive Disabilities Resources.” (n.d.) Accessed June 28, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.