Is ADHD A Disability?

Dawn Ferrara LPC, LMFT
May 18, 2020

Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed neuropsychiatric disorders in children and adults. In fact, it is estimated that about 11% of children in the U.S. have ADHD. Recent years have seen a steady increase in the number of ADHD diagnoses, among children and adults. In fact, the rates of adults being diagnosed with ADHD have risen about 123% since 2007. So, taken together, in the U.S. alone, well over 10 million children and adults are known to be living with ADHD.

is adhd a disability

How The Mental Health Community Classifies ADHD

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), ADHD is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects children and adults. It is a complex disorder in that it is classified as a mental disorder but is neurologically based. ADHD is described as “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” People with ADHD have difficulties with maintaining attention, executive function (or the brain’s ability to begin an activity, organize itself and manage tasks) and working memory. How those difficulties manifest depends on the dominant symptoms that a person has.

When people think of ADHD, the adjective that usually comes to mind is “hyperactive.” Hyperactivity is, in fact, only one of several clinical symptoms of ADHD that may be present. Not everyone who has ADHD will experience hyperactivity.

Symptoms of ADHD can include:

  • Problems focusing
  • Impulsivity
  • Hyperactivity
  • Disorganization
  • Forgetfulness
  • Disruptive behavior

How symptoms manifest is different in children, teens and adults. Symptoms may be mild to severe.

When the diagnosis of ADHD is made, it is further defined as one of three sub-types based on the presentation of predominant symptoms:

  • ADHD – Hyperactive Type
  • ADHD – Inattentive Type
  • ADHD – Combined Type

ADHD – Inattentive Type

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Poor attention to details
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Disorganization/messy work
  • Not listening
  • Forgetful
  • Easily distracted

ADHD – Hyperactive Type

  • Fidgety, difficulty sitting still
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty doing “quiet” activities
  • Running or climbing when not appropriate to the situation
  • Difficulty working or playing quietly
  • Excessive talking/chattering/interrupting
  • Poor task completion

ADHD – Combined Type

This sub-category is for those individuals who display a combination of hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive symptoms.

Challenges of Living with ADHD

Each type of ADHD presents challenges that the person must learn to cope with. These challenges affect the individual, family, school, relationships, work, and social functioning.

While some people find that their symptoms are relatively mild and manageable, others find that their symptoms are quite severe and require significant management. That intervention may include medication to help with attention or hyperactivity, counseling, skills coaching or other supportive therapies.

In more severe cases, the person’s ability to function optimally in their daily lives can become quite difficult, affecting the ability to perform well in school, meet work expectations or manage their personal and social lives in productive, healthy ways. Symptoms can become so severe that the person may be unable to manage school without significant educational accommodations or sustain employment. In some cases, impairment may be so severe that the person may be considered disabled.

Determining Disability – Does ADHD Qualify

Whether or not someone with ADHD qualifies for disability is not a simple yes or no answer. Whereas mental health clinicians make diagnostic determinations based on symptom presentation, disability determination is more based on the degree of impairment and functional assessment.

A diagnosis of ADHD alone is not sufficient to meet the qualifications. You must also provide verifiable medical documentation of significant functional impairments that impact school performance or keep the person from working. Specific criteria for the evaluation of ADHD disability determination can be found in the Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations under Section 112.11.

You will be required to provide verifiable medical documentation of an ADHD diagnosis including medical records, a psychological or psychiatric evaluation, documentation of therapy and other documents the examiner may find necessary. These records are usually requested directly by the SSA Office of Disability Determinations.


If you’re considering pursuing a disability claim for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the process.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers educational material and information on their website.

The SSA also offers starter kits to help you with the disability application process:

There are starter kits for adults and for children. Kits are free to download and include:

  • Fact sheet that answers questions most people ask about applying for disability benefits
  • Checklist of documents and information we will request
  • Worksheet to help you gather and organize the information you will need

You may have legal questions. If so, consider seeking the advice of an attorney who is experienced in dealing with disability claims. Your state’s bar association may be able to help you locate an attorney with this specialty in your area.

As with any major decision, the best tool you have is knowledge.

Dawn Ferrara LPC, LMFT

Dawn Ferrara is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with additional certification in the telemental health field. She is passionate about helping people find solutions that work and believes that every person has the power to be successful. Her practice is in South Louisiana.