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Disability Benefits for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental condition that arises in children and may continue on into adulthood. It is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children and is characterized by hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and difficulty with maintaining focus. Although very rare, the symptoms of chronic ADHD can become severe enough to interfere with an individual’s activities of daily living as well as schooling and/or occupation. In these cases, an individual with chronic ADHD may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.

About Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ADHD is a common mental disorder that is typically diagnosed at a young age distinguished by symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention, impulsiveness, and uncontrollable behavior. Approximately 9.5% of children in the United States are diagnosed with some type of ADHD and around 4% continue to have ADHD throughout adulthood. The symptoms tend to become apparent during the first few years of schooling and home life. These symptoms are separated into three different categories: Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Symptoms of inattention

  • Difficultly maintaining attention and focus
  • Problems with organization and daily tasks
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficultly listening and following directions
  • Frequent daydreaming
  • Problems with finishing tasks

Symptoms of hyperactivity

  • Problems with sitting still
  • Constant movement or restlessness
  • Excessive talking
  • Cannot remain quiet when needed

Symptoms of impulsivity

  • Difficulty with self-control
  • Often interrupts other people
  • Problems with waiting and patience

Typically most children can get distracted, have high energy levels, act impulsively, and have other symptoms common with ADHD. However, this is normal in children and does not necessarily mean they have ADHD. Children with ADHD experience the symptoms consistently to the point of causing problems in school and home life. There are no specific tests that can diagnose children with ADHD. A medical professional can only diagnose a child with ADHD based on the information provided by the family and school records as well as evaluating the child in person.

Types of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the manual used by doctors and physicians to determine and identify particular conditions, breaks down ADHD into three different subtypes. Many individuals with ADHD suffer from certain symptoms more than others who also have ADHD and the subtypes help doctors more accurately identify the problems an individual with ADHD is experiencing. The three subtypes are listed below.

Combined Presentation: Individual has symptoms of inattention as well as hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: Individual has symptoms of inattention with little to no presence of hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: Individual has symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity but doesn’t have symptoms of inattention.

ADD also known as Attention Deficit Disorder is commonly used interchangeably with ADHD. However, since the most recent revision of the DSM, ADD in most cases now refers to the predominantly inattentive presentation subtype of ADHD.


Qualifying with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

It is extremely difficult for a child to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits with just ADHD alone and is even harder for an adult. This is because the Social Security Administration (SSA) in most cases does not find ADHD to be severe enough to limit daily functioning and/or one’s ability to work a job if over 18 years of age. Typically those who are approved for benefits with ADHD also have another condition such as anxiety and bipolar disorder. Although, if an individual’s ADHD is severe enough to get in the way of daily functioning or employment, he or she may qualify for disability benefits.

The SSA’s Blue Book lists the requirements for certain conditions to qualify for disability benefits. Subsection 112.11 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder of chapter 12 Mental conditions lists what is necessary for a child with ADHD to qualify. Individuals who are 18 years or older are evaluated through the medical-vocational allowance. The requirements for both are listed below.

112.11 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

The listing is met when both requirements A and B are fulfilled.

Requirement A
Applicant must have all three of the following:

  • Marked inattention
  • Marked hyperactivity
  • Marked impulsiveness


Requirement B

For applicants ages 1 to 3 at least one of the following:

a.) Gross or fine motor development
b.) Cognitive and/or communicative functions
c.) Social functioning
d.) Attainment of development or function in at least 2 of the areas above (a, b, or c)

For applicants ages 3 to 18 at least two of the following:

a.) Marked impairment in age-appropriate cognitive and/or communicative functions
b.) Marked impairment in age-appropriate social functioning
c.) Marked impairment in age-appropriate personal functioning
d.) Marked impairment in maintaining concentration, pace, or persistence

The requirements must have the proper documentation and support such as medical statements, historical information (from parents and teachers) and standardized tests to prove the impairments.


Medical-Vocational Allowance

There is no listing for ADHD in the adult section of the Blue Book. Due to this fact, adults with ADHD may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits through the medical-vocational allowance. The medical-vocational allowance is used for any condition when determining if an applicant’s disabling condition is severe enough. To meet the requirements for the medical-vocational allowance, an applicant must be able to prove that his or her condition (in this case ADHD) is severe enough to prevent them from finding and maintaining employment as well as performing unskilled work in the labor force. Unskilled work means any job that gives tasks that require minimal to no education or training to perform the job. If the SSA finds that the applicant’s symptoms are severe to prevent them from doing unskilled work, he or she can qualify for disability benefits.

Keep in mind that there needs to be medical evidence to support the claim that an applicant cannot in fact perform unskilled work. Since ADHD is a mental condition, this can be rather difficult. One way to help validate a claim is to have the applicant’s doctor fill out a mental residual functional capacity form. This form evaluates what tasks the applicant is capable of doing despite his or her condition and shows the SSA whether or not the applicant can indeed perform unskilled work. Providing this form with the initial application can significantly increases an individual’s chances for approval.


The Six Domains of Functioning

In several instances, a child may have severe ADHD but may not meet the requirements listed within the SSA’s Blue Book. This doesn’t necessarily mean the child will not qualify. When the SSA evaluates a child for disability benefits, they determine if the child is able to function in each area of the Six Domains of Functioning. Each domain covers a specific topic of functioning in everyday life. A child will qualify for disability benefits if he or she is severely impaired in at least two domains or extremely impaired in one domain. The six domains of functioning are listed below.

  • Acquiring and Using Information
  • Attending and Completing Tasks
  • Interacting and Relating to Others
  • Moving About and Manipulating Objects
  • Self Care
  • Health and Physical Well-Being

For severe ADHD, the most common domains that tend to be impaired are Acquiring and Using Information as well as Attending and Completing Tasks. The symptoms of severe ADHD can hinder a child from learning effectively in school and focusing on tasks long enough to complete them. Other domains can become impaired as well if the symptoms are severe enough although it is quite rare.