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Accommodations and Benefits for ADHD: Is It a Disability?


Severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is considered a developmental disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In these cases, the attention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity challenges ADHD causes make it difficult for someone to do daily activities and function effectively in a school or work environment.

This legal context aside, not everyone personally defines ADHD as a disability. This can sometimes make the association of these terms contentious.

This article discusses ADHD as a potential disability, how to get diagnosed, and possible federal disability benefits that you might qualify for with ADHD. It also covers possible accommodations at school and work—such as extra time to complete work, taking frequent breaks, and assistance with organizational skills.

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Is ADHD a Developmental Disability?

ADHD is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder—a condition that affects the brain as it is developing. Symptoms of ADHD typically appear in childhood and continue into adulthood.

Symptoms of ADHD in children can include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Daydreaming
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Conflicts with peers
  • Excessive talking
  • Squirming and fidgeting
  • Risk-taking

Adults with ADHD may have some of the same symptoms as children, but symptoms can also look different at older ages. For example, hyperactivity in adults may appear as extreme restlessness or wearing others out with their activity.

If a person’s symptoms of ADHD are severe enough to interfere with their function at school or in the workplace, ADHD can be considered a developmental disability.

A developmental disability is any condition that occurs during child development that negatively impacts daily function. These conditions can affect behavior, learning, motor skills, or language development.

Is ADHD a Learning Disability?

ADHD is not a learning disability, but many children who are diagnosed with ADHD also have learning disabilities. In addition, ADHD can have a big impact on a child’s ability to learn—difficulty paying attention, inability to sit still for long periods of time, and impulsivity have negative effects on education.

Legal Rights and Accommodations at School

Although ADHD is not a learning disability, it is a recognized disability that can qualify a student for accommodations at school, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Accommodations for students with ADHD can include:

  • Extra time to complete assignments and tests
  • Frequent breaks to allow the child to move around
  • Quiet learning environment outside the classroom
  • Shorter assignments
  • Assistance with organization

Federal law protects students from disability discrimination and students with ADHD may be entitled to special education or related aids or services from their school district.

Legal Rights and Accommodations in the Workplace

ADHD is a diagnosis that frequently continues into adulthood, and often causes issues in the workplace. One of the main symptoms of ADHD that affects people in the work environment is difficulty paying attention.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that helps protect people with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. This law requires employers with 15 or more employees to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities to help them be successful in the workplace.

Having a diagnosis of ADHD does not automatically provide you with protection under the ADA. You’ll need a healthcare professional to verify that you are disabled by your condition first.

As an adult, if your ADHD symptoms impair your ability to do your job effectively, you might consider discussing your diagnosis with your employer or the person in the human resources department to see if accommodations can be made.

Accommodations in the workplace for adults with ADHD may include:

  • Delegating work
  • Taking frequent breaks
  • Technology assistance
  • Realistic workload
  • Workspace adjustments to minimize distractions
  • Modified work schedule
  • Changing positions within the company

Disability Benefits and How to Apply

The Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs are the largest of several Federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities.

In some cases, children with ADHD might qualify for federal disability benefits—Supplemental Security Income (SSI) through the Social Security Administration. However, there are strict requirements for qualification—the child's condition must cause “marked and severe functional limitations” and symptoms must have lasted for at least one year.

Similar requirements are in place for an adult with ADHD to receive federal benefits—the condition must cause an inability to do any “substantial gainful activity” and have lasted for at least a year.

The first step in receiving benefits is to get a diagnosis of ADHD. The next step is to apply for disability benefits to determine if you or your child qualify.

Applications for disability benefits are considered on a case-by-case basis. You can apply for benefits online or call to make an appointment to get assistance with the application. For more information, visit the Social Security Administration website.

Diagnosing ADHD

Symptoms of ADHD might first be noticed by a child's parents and teachers. Diagnosis of ADHD is often made by the child’s healthcare provider, such as a pediatrician or family practitioner. According to a 2014 national survey, around 30% of children with ADHD were diagnosed by the age of six, and about 76% were diagnosed by nine years old.

ADHD is also diagnosed by mental health professionals, using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Criteria for diagnosing ADHD are based on consistent demonstration of inattention and/or impulsivity or hyperactivity.

Symptoms of inattention can include:

  • Difficulty paying attention during tasks
  • Mistakes in schoolwork
  • Not completing tasks that have been started
  • Easily distracted
  • Avoiding activities that require concentration
  • Losing items
  • Forgetfulness
  • Being unorganized

Hyperactive/impulsive behavior can include:

  • Difficulty taking turns
  • Interrupting
  • Excessive talking
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Tapping hands or feet
  • Difficulty playing quietly
  • Running instead of walking

Sometimes ADHD isn’t diagnosed until adulthood. The diagnosis criteria include experiencing at least five persistent symptoms of inattention and/or five persistent symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity.

These symptoms must be present in two or more settings (such as home, work, or school; with friends or relatives; in other activities) and interfere with, or reduce the quality of social, school, or work functioning.

Summary

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that is typically diagnosed in childhood, with symptoms that often continue into adulthood. These symptoms—such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior—can cause significant issues in school and work environments.

ADHD is considered a developmental disability, not a learning disability. Accommodations can often be made in the classroom or work environment to help people with ADHD be more successful.

If symptoms are severe, a person with ADHD might qualify for federal benefits, but this is determined on a case-by-case basis.

A Word From Verywell 

If you suspect that your child might have ADHD, talk to their healthcare provider about an assessment and treatments that are available. The earlier these symptoms are recognized, the faster the interventions can be put in place to help your child succeed in school and at home.

Talk to your child's school about accommodations that are available to help your child learn more effectively. This can significantly reduce frustration and negative behaviors that are impacting their ability to learn. Consider seeing a therapist for family therapy for tips on managing behaviors at home as well.

Sources


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