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If you have severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and are unable to work because of it, you may qualify for disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) categorizes attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD for short, as a mental health condition. In 2021, 12% of people receiving Social Security disability benefits qualified due to mental health conditions.
Qualifying for Social Security disability benefits with a mental health condition is particularly challenging. As you approach the application process, it's helpful to understand how the SSA defines ADHD and how your ADHD could allow you to qualify for benefits. From there, we'll help you figure out the appropriate next steps.
Is ADHD a disability?
Yes, ADHD is a developmental disability, and depending on the specifics of your condition, you could receive Social Security disability benefits. To qualify, your ADHD must cause functional limitations and prevent you from being able to work.
How the SSA defines ADHD
ADHD is not listed in the SSA Blue Book, a resource of qualifying conditions, but your symptoms likely fall under a type of mental health condition called neurocognitive disorders. ADHD is characterized by a combination of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Other symptoms of ADHD in adults can include:
Restlessness or overactivity
Poor time management and planning
Challenges focusing on and completing a task
Frequent mood swings or a quick temper
Difficulty dealing with stress
Can you get disability for ADHD?
Yes, it is possible to receive disability benefits for ADHD. To qualify, however, your ADHD symptoms must be severe and prevent you from being able to work. The SSA will require you to provide documentation of your condition and treatment record. Qualifying for benefits is challenging given the SSA's strict criteria, especially for mental health conditions such as ADHD.
If you have another condition in addition to ADHD, definitely include that in your application. It's generally easier to qualify for Social Security disability benefits when applying with more than one condition. For example, individuals with ADHD often also suffer from the following qualifying conditions:
ADHD can qualify you for disability if you have substantial evidence your case is serious enough to prevent you from working in any capacity. SSA criteria are strict for any condition, but especially for mental health disorders, like ADHD.
First, you must prove you have a diagnosis of ADHD. Your symptoms must meet the criteria outlined in the DSM-5, a set of guidelines for healthcare providers, which include:
Inattention: Adults must have five or more symptoms of inattention, and the symptoms must be inappropriate for their developmental level and have persisted for at least six months. Adolescents and children must have six symptoms of inattention.
Hyperactivity and impulsivity: Adults must have five or more symptoms related to hyperactivity or impulsivity inappropriate for their level of development, and these symptoms must be present for at least six months before the diagnosis. Adolescents and children must have six symptoms, present before the age of 12.
It can be challenging to diagnose ADHD in children and adults. Even with a diagnosis, it can be difficult to receive disability benefits, especially if the individual has multiple mental disorders.
In addition to a diagnosis, you must also submit medical records that demonstrate your ADHD notably limits your abilities or continues to interfere to a significant extent despite treatment. Records might show you have difficulty:
Understanding, remembering, or applying information and instructions
Challenges concentrating and maintaining pace when completing tasks
Interacting or communicating with others
Regulating your mood
For adolescents and children, report cards, Individualized Educational Plan reports, psychological testing, and lists of ADHD medications can help strengthen the case for SSI benefits.
Lastly, the SSA requires evidence that you have consistently sought and are continuing to seek treatment for your ADHD symptoms and assistance in managing them. You will need to demonstrate that even though you are receiving regular treatment, your ADHD symptoms continue to be severe, disrupting your ability to hold a job.
6 Questions to ask yourself before applying
If you're waffling on whether or not to move forward with applying for disability benefits, answering the following questions may provide some clarity. If you can answer 'yes' to most of the following questions, your ADHD may have a higher chance of qualifying:
Do I have issues concentrating or keeping up to perform basic tasks?
Do I struggle to socialize, interact, or communicate with coworkers?
Do I find it hard to follow directions from a boss or supervisor?
Do I find it hard to manage mood swings?
Do I experience restlessness or have trouble sleeping?
Do I have difficulty managing stress?
Have I been regularly seeing a psychiatrist or mental health professional for treatment?
My ADHD meets the criteria. Now what?
If you believe you meet the criteria to qualify, the next step is to apply for disability benefits. But if you're less certain whether or not your ADHD will qualify, here's some guidance to help you decide what makes sense to do next:
Apply now if:You've been diagnosed with ADHD and can demonstrate that your condition is severe enough to prevent you from working.Your symptoms are severe and ongoing despite treatment.You have another qualifying condition that's listed in the SSA Blue Book.
Consider waiting and applying later if:Your ADHD symptoms seem to be improving with treatment.You're still able to work despite your ADHD, even if you worry you may not be able to in the future.
Probably don’t apply if:Your ADHD doesn't prevent you from working in some capacity, even if it's disruptive.You’re working, earning near or above $1,400 per month, and don’t plan to stop working.
For further guidance, take the 2-minute Atticus disability benefits quiz. Based on your answers, a member of our team will reach out if it seems like you could qualify for Social Security disability. Atticus can also pair you with a qualified disability lawyer to help with your application. There are no upfront costs to working with a lawyer — you only pay after you win benefits.
What type of benefits should I apply for?
As you begin the process of applying for disability with ADHD, you will learn there are two different types of disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both are types of government programs that support Americans who are unable to work because of a medical condition, and they both include health insurance (Medicare for SSDI and Medicaid for SSI).
However, SSDI is intended for individuals who have worked and paid taxes for at least 10 years. SSI, meanwhile, is for people who haven't worked much or at all, or who have low income (less than $1,000 per month) and few assets, such as savings and other valuable property. When applying, it's important to understand the differences between SSDI and SSI to make sure you seek the appropriate assistance.
The average monthly disability check for a mental health or neurocognitive disorder, like ADHD, is $1,170. The maximum amount someone can receive is $3,627 a month for SSDI and $914 a month for SSI.
These limits apply regardless of the condition or number of qualifying conditions on your application. Further, the exact amount you'll receive each month depends on factors specific to you. For SSDI, your benefit amount depends on your work history, whereas SSI is calculated based on your sources of income.
You might realize after reviewing this article that your ADHD is unlikely to qualify for disability benefits. Nevertheless, you could submit an application and hope for favorable results.
Just keep in mind that winning disability benefits is a difficult process, and that's especially true when applying with a mental health condition like ADHD. Approximately 34.6% of people who receive disability benefits receive them for a mental health condition.
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