Is ADHD a Disability? ADA and SSDI Benefit Qualifications

Although the SSA doesn’t list ADHD as an impairment, you may qualify for disability if you meet SSDI criteria.
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Nerdy takeaways
  • ADHD may qualify as a disability with SSDI.

  • Qualifying for ADA accommodations is not the same as qualifying for SSDI.

  • You must meet certain requirements to qualify for SSDI with ADHD.

Nerdy takeaways
  • ADHD may qualify as a disability with SSDI.

  • Qualifying for ADA accommodations is not the same as qualifying for SSDI.

  • You must meet certain requirements to qualify for SSDI with ADHD.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if it meets the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of a disability. However, the SSA does not publish specific criteria for disability benefits for ADHD. Instead you must prove your condition meets the general qualification requirements.

How ADHD may qualify as a disability

The SSA classifies ADHD as a mental disorder. To qualify as a disability, a mental disorder must seriously limit

:

  • Your physical abilities.

  • Your mental abilities in at least one of four prime areas: handling information, interacting with others, concentration or self-management. 

The SSA doesn’t provide a mathematical way to measure someone's physical and mental abilities in light of an ADHD diagnosis. Instead, it says you must experience a “marked limitation” — falling between a "moderate limitation" and an "extreme limitation."

If you meet the following criteria and can show it is because of your ADHD, you might qualify for SSDI

.

Physical limitations

The SSA looks at whether the condition consistently affects your ability to start, maintain and finish physical tasks on your own at work. The SSA defines physical activities as ones that require motor abilities, such as standing up from a chair, using your arms to grip or lift objects, keeping your balance when standing or walking and even bodily functions such as swallowing.

Mental limitations

The SSA evaluates how limited you are in working independently, appropriately for your workspace and effectively given your job responsibilities. It also considers how well you can sustain that level of work.

The four areas of mental functioning the SSA evaluates for SSDI include:

  • Understanding, remembering or applying information.

  • Interacting with others.

  • Concentrating, persisting or maintaining pace.

  • Adapting or managing oneself.

Examples of how ADHD might affect mental functioning include challenges in

:

  • Working through tasks that require multiple steps to be completed in order.

  • Keeping pace to complete a task on time.

  • Maintaining focus on work without being distracted.

Continued symptoms

The SSA requires that your medical records show that you have had ADHD for at least two years

. You may have to show you have participated in ongoing treatment during that time as well.

Ongoing treatment

The SSA also requires proof that you have tried to treat your ADHD without major success or that you rely on additional support. You will need to show that you gave treatment a chance to work.

SSDI benefits and ADHD

SSDI provides disabled workers with monthly payments to replace the income they can no longer earn

. How much the SSA pays a disabled person depends on how much of their lifetime earnings were covered by Social Security and whether they receive other government benefits or pension payments.

The SSA paid an average of $1,485.87 to disabled workers in 2023, which is $17,830.44 annually

. Although this monthly income helps many disabled workers, the average amount is just $3,250.44 a year more than the 2023 federal poverty level.

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ADA accommodations for ADHD

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers with at least 15 employees accommodate employees with disabilities by reasonably modifying job requirements, the workplace or the hiring process

. The ADA covers individuals with ADHD if they meet the law’s definition of a disability.

Examples of workplace accommodations for ADHD may include:

  • More breaks.

  • An adjusted schedule.

  • Modifiable workspaces to change position.

  • More time to complete tasks.

  • A quieter space to concentrate.

  • A workspace that is less likely to have distractions.

You don’t have to have ADA accommodations to apply for SSDI benefits, but it can be a good place to start. If your employer requests documentation, a letter from your doctor usually works

.

Why ADHD is difficult to diagnose

When it comes to ADHD, “there is a spectrum of symptoms,” says Howard Pratt, the medical director of psychiatric services at Community Health of South Florida.

Not everyone experiences ADHD in the same way, and that’s part of what makes the condition difficult to diagnose.

“There are no biological tests for it,” says Zoe Martinez, lead psychiatrist at Done, a telehealth company specializing in ADHD treatment. “It really is a clinical diagnosis.”

Because a physician can’t run a straightforward test to confirm someone has ADHD, they have to consider what symptoms a patient presents and how they affect their life. A psychiatrist will need to rely on additional sources to confirm a diagnosis, Pratt says. They might review records such as job evaluations or report cards to better understand how the person has struggled with certain tasks.

“The key is really ruling out other things,” Pratt says. “As far as the diagnosis, it is very difficult.”

Inattention is a permanent hallmark of ADHD. “People don’t outgrow that,” Martinez says. Adults with ADHD are also likely to struggle focusing on tasks, completing activities and ignoring distractions.

These symptoms can make a job feel overwhelming. Martinez says an increase in work responsibilities commonly worsen her patients’ symptoms. Managing others, juggling more tasks and going to more meetings makes it difficult for them to function in their jobs.

To supervisors, this can seem “like they’re not paying attention or that they don’t care,” Martinez says. “And that’s not true. It’s just that the tasks become too challenging.”

Children will have the same symptoms but are likely to exhibit more impulsive behavior such as finding it difficult to take turns or wait for others to finish a task, according to Martinez. These symptoms can cause issues in school in the same way they can affect adults in the workplace.


Read more about whether these conditions may qualify for disability benefits.


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