Is ADHD a Disability?

In this article...
  • Individuals living with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration and for acommodations in the workplace. Knowing your legal protections and benefits can help you navigate workplace challenges effectively.

Lack of focus. Impulsivity. Fatigue. Restlessness and anxiety. These are just a few of the symptoms associated with attention deficit disorder (ADHD), a mental health condition that affects approximately 10 million adults.

While some individuals living with ADHD have successful careers, for others, the symptoms of ADHD create a variety of work-related challenges. For example, they may have inconsistent performance, poor communication skills, chronic feelings of frustration, and difficulties fulfilling their daily responsibilities.

In some cases, those with ADHD may actually qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments. In other cases, they may qualify for accommodations at work. This article explains how those living with ADHD can navigate work-related challenges by leveraging legal protections and benefits.

How Is ADHD Diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with ADHD, you must meet certain criteria outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that your medical provider – usually a psychologist, psychiatrist, or primary care physician – will use to evaluate your condition.

The number and type of criteria you meet will determine whether you actually have ADHD, and if so, what type (i.e., predominantly inattentive presentation, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation or combined presentation). In addition, even if you meet the criteria, your symptoms must be present for at least six months before your medical provider can officially diagnose you with ADHD.

Is ADHD Considered a Disability That Qualifies for Disability Payments?

If you’re an adult with ADHD, you may qualify for SSDI payments depending on your specific signs and symptoms and whether your ADHD has prevented you from working or keeping a job in any capacity. Disability payments are usually determined on a case-by-case basis. Factors for consideration include your age, work history, education, medical history and more. 

How Can I Apply for SSDI Benefits if I Think I’m Eligible?

You can apply disability benefits online, by phone or in person. As part of the application process, you will be asked to provide information about yourself, your medical condition and your work.

For example, you may need to provide medical records, therapist’s notes, statements from people who know you and other information that can shed light on the severity of your ADHD and its effects on your ability to function in a work setting. Use this checklist to compile important documentation before you apply.

Will I Always Be Eligible for SSDI Payments Once I Start Receiving Them?

Not necessarily. Once you’re approved for SSDI, your case will be periodically reviewed (once every three years) to determine whether you are still disabled.

What Are Some Strategies I Can Use to Cope With My ADHD at Work?

There are many strategies that can help those living with ADHD lead productive and satisfying careers.

  • For example, if you can’t remember deadlines and other responsibilities, consider using checklists or a daily planner to stay on track.

  • If you have a predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation – but you work at a mostly sedentary job – consider taking notes during meetings to prevent restlessness or using your lunch hour for exercise.

  • If you have difficulty with distractions at work, consider coming in early or staying late to avoid them.

Can I Get Accommodations at Work Because of My ADHD?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodations (e.g., job restructuring or modified work schedules) if your ADHD meets these criteria:

  • It significantly impacts your ability to perform major life activities or functions
  • There’s a record of your ADHD
  • Others perceive you as being disabled due to your ADHD
  • You’re able to perform the essential job functions with or without accommodations

What this means is that some people with ADHD are considered to have a disability under ADA, and some are not. Also keep in mind that the ADA applies to businesses with 15 or more employees. In addition, employers are also exempt if they can show that the accommodation would be an undue hardship, such as being too expensive or creating other challenges within the workplace environment.

How Can I Ask for Workplace Accommodations?

You can request an accommodation in writing or verbally, depending on your employer’s protocols. For example, if you work in a noisy area, you can ask to be moved to a quieter area or be allowed to wear noise cancelling headphones.

Try to frame requests from a position of strength, and be creative in your solutions. For example, instead of saying, “My ADHD makes it hard for me to manage projects,” you could say, “I work best when I’m able to break projects up into manageable parts or partner with a coworker who has good organizational skills.”

Similarly, instead of saying, “I know the ADA protects me because of my disability,” you could say, “If I can use a white noise machine at my desk, I can get my work done more efficiently and excel at my job.”

What if My Employer Denies a Valid Accommodation Request?

You have the right to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

About the Author

Lisa Eramo is an independent health care writer whose work appears in the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association, Healthcare Financial Management Association, For The Record Magazine, Medical Economics, Medscape and more.

Lisa studied creative writing at Hamilton College and obtained a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University. She is a member of the American Health Information Management Association, American Academy of Professional Coders, Society of Professional Journalists, Association of Health Care Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

Lisa currently resides in Cranston, Rhode Island with her wife and two-year-old twin boys.

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