If you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), focusing and paying attention can be an everyday challenge.
But whether your condition is mild or debilitating, you may wonder whether having ADHD is considered a disability, and if there are ways your workplace can help better accommodate you.
Is ADHD really a disability?
There are lots of “invisible” disabilities out there — and ADHD is among them.
In the U.S., ADHD is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 with some stipulations. If ADHD limits your ability to work or participate in society, it’s considered a protected disability.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also considers ADHD to be a neurodevelopmental disability.
Keep in mind: Though labels like “disability” may help professionals diagnose conditions or provide appropriate treatment and services. You don’t personally have to define your own ADHD as a disability.
Even though ADHD is often considered a disability, it’s not frequently referred to as a *mental* disability. Though mental disorders like anxiety, ADHD, or bipolar disorder are sometimes associated with disability, they don’t always go hand-in-hand.
If ADHD impacts day-to-day life, then it may be considered a mental disability.
The American Psychiatric Association defines ADHD as a disorder rather than an illness or disability. ADHD technically also meets most of the criteria to be considered a mental illness as outlined by the association, including:
- being a treatable health condition
- involving significant changes in emotion, thinking or behavior
- being associated with distress
- affecting social situations, work or relationships
The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) uses the terms “mental disorder,” “mental illness” and “mental health condition” interchangeably, so basically, ADHD could also be considered any of these.
The tl;dr on ADHD and mental disabilities
ADHD is most often referred to as a mental disorder, but when it significantly impacts your day-to-day life, may also be considered a mental disability.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a U.S. federal law that went into effect in 1990 to help protect the rights of people with disabilities. It’s meant to:
- make discrimination against people with disabilities in the public sector illegal
- make sure people with disabilities receive equal opportunities and the same protections as others, regardless of ethnicity, sex, age, religion, etc.
Meanwhile, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 aimed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in federal programs.
Under both acts, ADHD is considered a disability in the states — though with special stipulations.
It’s only considered a protected disability if it’s severe and interferes with your ability to work or participate in the public sector. If you can work and function in society no prob, you’re unlikely to receive benefits from federal or state governments.
The tl;dr on ADHD and The ADA
ADHD is considered a disability by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ADHD is considered one of the common developmental disorders or disabilities among children, meaning that it impacts neurodevelopment. Developmental disabilities may impact one or all of the following:
Along with other conditions like autism, cerebral palsy, and hearing loss, ADHD is considered a developmental disability.
The tl;dr on ADHD and developmental disabilities
ADHD is considered a developmental disability by the CDC.
According to the NINDS and the Learning Disabilities Association of America, ADHD isn’t considered a learning disability. Still, according the National Resource Center on ADHD, up to 50 percent of children with ADHD may have a coexisting learning disability.
Learning disabilities are a subtype of development disabilities. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, someone with a learning disability has difficulty:
- understanding written or spoken word
- performing calculations and other tasks
The tl;dr on ADHD and learning disabilities
ADHD isn’t considered a learning disability, but as many as 1 in 2 children with ADHD also have a learning disability.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), companies with more than 15 employees legally can’t discriminate against workers with disabilities and must make reasonable accommodations for them.
This law *might* apply to people with ADHD in some cases. According to the ADA, your job only has to make accommodations that don’t cause “undue hardship” — basically things that aren’t wildly expensive, time-consuming or result in a major productivity loss for the biz.
If you’re working for a company with less than 15 workers — you’re not necessarily SOL. You still might be protected under your state’s anti-discrimination laws.
The tl;dr on ADHD work accommodations
The ADA *might* protect you in the workplace if your employer has more than 15 employees or your state has other anti-discrimination laws. It’s complicated, but basically your employer should have to make reasonable accommodations related to your ADHD.
Disability advocates recommend waiting to bring up your ADHD until a situation arises where you feel it’s necessary. For instance, if you’re really overstimulated by the loud AF part of the office you’re in, you might ask to be moved to a quieter space.
If your boss is hesitant, it may be a good time to bring up your ADHD.
If your employer refuses to make accommodations for your ADHD, consider taking some or all of the following steps to protect yourself:
- Document the interactions with your employer in a notebook with the date. (Pro tip: Don’t leave these on your office computer!)
- Consider consulting an employment attorney.
The tl;dr on ADHD in the workplace
If you’re not having issues at work, you probably don’t need to bring up your ADHD. But, you may want to bring up your ADHD at work if your employer isn’t accommodating your ADHD-related needs.
Technically, you *can* get disability benefits in the U.S. if you have ADHD — but there are super strict rules about which people with ADHD qualify for them.
In order to apply for social security disability (SSDI) for ADHD in the first place, you have to:
- have been diagnosed with the condition since childhood
- prove that your ability to participate in work or school is severely hindered by your ADHD
- have ADHD diagnosis documentation from a medical professional that confirms symptoms including inattentiveness, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity
- have documentation that at least 2 out of 3 of the following are a direct result of ADHD: problems communicating, functioning in social settings, or functioning in one’s personal life relative to people of the same age
A government official will scope out your school, work, and life by looking for patterns of severe functional impairments. They may delve into your grades, test scores, life history, medical docs, and more.
The tl;dr on ADHD and disability benefits
Simply having an ADHD diagnosis doesn’t mean you can get disability benefits. There are strict rules in place to qualify for disability benefits with ADHD. Folks who do qualify must concretely prove that ADHD has severely impacted their day-to-day life since childhood.
ADHD treatment options vary widely for children and adults with ADHD. They can also be different from person to person depending on how ADHD personally affects you.
Some treatment and ADHD management tools include:
- therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy
- enlisting a work or life coach
- prescription meds like Adderall
- natural remedies including melatonin, light therapy, zinc, exercise, and probiotics
- essential oils like rosemary, frankincense, or vetiver
- ADHD is considered a disability by many associations and governing bodies, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- If ADHD limits your ability to work or partake in society, it’s considered a protected disability by the ADA.
- The CDC considers ADHD to be a neurodevelopmental disability.
- It’s not considered a learning disability, even though as many as half of children with ADHD may have a coexisting learning disorder.
- Your employer may be legally obliged to accommodate your ADHD in some cases.
- In extreme cases, you may be able to get disability benefits if you have ADHD.