Is ADHD A Disability?

Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT

Published 12/22/2020

What Is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that commonly appears in children but also affects adults. While ADHD is usually diagnosed in children, there are instances of adults being first diagnosed with the disorder later in life.

The characteristics of ADHD include having issues with focusing, paying attention, acting without thinking, and being overly active. The average age of people diagnosed with ADHD begins at age seven, and symptoms may not become apparent until the age of twelve. It is one of the most common developmental disorders affecting children, with an estimated 9% of children and 4% of adults who have ADHD.

Since ADHD affects an individual’s control over their own behaviors and actions, many have raised the question regarding the disorder’s classification as a disability. If you want to learn more about ADHD as a disability, symptoms, and treatment options, then please continue reading.

Is ADHD Considered A Disability?

ADHD’s status as a disability is complicated due to the fact that there are multiple answers to this complex question. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that guarantees the protection of rights for people with disabilities, and in conjunction with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, ADHD is considered a disability in the United States.

While considered a disability, there are strict guidelines concerning the classification. If a person’s ADHD is interfering with their life or work performance, then the government will recognize it as a protected disability. On the other hand, federal and state governments will not provide benefits to those with a mild case of ADHD.

Is ADHD A Learning Disability?

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Another common question concerns ADHD as a learning disability. This query derives from ADHD affecting an individual’s mental processes, thus influencing academic performance. Furthermore, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke discusses that people with learning disabilities have difficulty understanding the written word or performing math calculations.

With the above information in mind, the NINDS does not classify ADHD as a learning disability. However, research done by The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that 20 to 30% of children with ADHD also have a learning disability that affects their skills in reading, math, or spelling. Of course, always consult a medical practitioner if you are concerned that your child or a loved one has ADHD or a learning disability.

Is ADHD A Mental Illness?

The reality that your child has a mental health illness can be hard to understand or accept. As such, people have questioned if ADHD is a mental illness. While the technical answer is yes, in that ADHD disrupts the mental processes of a person’s mind, do not fixate on ADHD’s label.

Instead, focus on how ADHD is affecting your child’s life. Understand the symptoms and behaviors of ADHD, and then find treatment options that can help your child live a satisfying life. An official diagnosis and information regarding treatment plans can only come from medical professionals. For adults, if you see a loved one with ADHD, make sure that they know you will always be there for them. It is important to focus on supporting them with the same love and care that they would have for you.

Symptoms Of ADHD

The symptoms of ADHD disability differ depending on three distinct types of the disorder. They are as follows:

Inattention ADHD:

  • This means that a person may have difficulties focusing on the present moment. They may wander away from tasks or be frequently disorganized.

Hyperactivity ADHD:

  • Individuals are likely to be energetic, even during situations that do not call for erratic behavior. Adults, as opposed to children, will most likely exhibit this behavior by being restless or wearing out others by being talkative or engaging in many activities.

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Impulsivity ADHD:

  • In this case, people may make actions without putting thought into them. Excessively impulsive people may make important decisions without considering the consequences.

Children usually either have inattention or a combined type of hyperactivity and impulsivity. For preschool-aged children, they commonly have the hyperactivity type.

It is normal for children to be energetic, hyper, and curious. It may be difficult to notice the distinction between inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. The following is a list of symptoms separated into these two, very common categories:

Inattention:

  • Not listening when being spoken to directly
  • Problems with time management or organizing tasks and activities. These include not performing tasks in a one logical order, failure to meet deadlines, and an inability to keep their belongings in order.
  • Avoiding tasks that require prolonged mental effort, such as schoolwork or, for teens and adults, completing reports, or reviewing long written works.
  • Easily distracted from a specific task or person
  • Constantly forgetful of daily activities, such as house upkeep or returning calls
  • Losing important things frequently, such cellphones, wallets, glasses, and keys

Hyperactivity-Impulsivity

  • Squirming, fidgeting, or moving constantly in their seats
  • An inability to partake in hobbies or activities quietly
  • Interrupting others while they are having a conversation, focused on one activity, etc.
  • Feeling like they are always on the move and that they cannot stop, even if they want to
  • Running around often, or in teens and adults, feeling frequently restless
  • Talking nonstop

How Is ADHD Diagnosed?

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The most important thing to know is that there is no single test that can accurately diagnose your child or loved one with ADHD. For instance, taking a quiz can be a great way to assess if you or a loved one want to seek professional help, but no quiz should be used as a replacement for an official diagnosis. If you are concerned about someone you know who you may believe has ADHD who is an adult, then take this short quiz to provide some clarity.

Medical health experts use the guidelines found in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to help diagnose people with ADHD and make sure that they get the appropriate treatment.

As you read the criteria for diagnosis, please keep in mind that only trained healthcare providers can diagnose you or a loved one with ADHD:

  1. Inattention:
    1. For children under the age of 17, at least six symptoms must be present for a minimum of six months. Adolescents aged 17 or higher must exhibit at least five symptoms for a minimum of six months. These symptoms must also be inappropriate for the average developmental level. That is to say, certain inattentive behaviors, like getting distracted during chores or forgetting important items, are to be expected at some ages, but there may be an abnormality if they last further into adulthood and begin to have a significant impact on your life and work.
  2. Hyperactivity-Impulsivity:
    1. If at least six symptoms for children under the age of 17 or at least five symptoms for adolescents aged 17 or older are present for at least six months and those symptoms are disruptive to their daily routine, then the individual may be diagnosed with ADHD.
  3. Other Conditions:
    1. Several symptoms in either category are exhibited in more than one setting, such as in the home and school. This rules out the possibility that the inattention or hyperactivity comes from a particular distaste for one teacher or one activity.
    2. Clear evidence that the symptoms are affecting an individual’s way of life, including their social relationships and school performance.
    3. Lastly, the symptoms are not attributed to another mental health disorder.

There are then three conclusions a medical professional can make regarding an individual with ADHD:

Combined Presentation: The individual may be diagnosed with ‘Combined Presentation’ if six or more symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive have been present for at least six months.

Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: Predominantly Inattentive Presentation ADHD may be present if there are symptoms of inattentive, but none for hyperactive-impulsive and the symptoms have been present for at least six months.

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: If there are symptoms of hyperactive-impulsive but none for inattentive, and the symptoms have been present for at least six months, then the individual may be treated for predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation ADHD.

Since symptoms can change over time, these presentations are also liable to change.

Psychotherapy And psychosocial treatment options:

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For loved ones, seeing their children and partners with ADHD may be disruptive and challenging. Therefore, your support can help your loved one deal with their ADHD. Thankfully, there are multiple psychotherapies and psychosocial treatments that may offer some relief.

Again, remember that treatment and diagnosis can only be carried out by a medical professional. But here, we’ve outlined some of the most common treatments for ADHD.

        Behavioral Therapy:

  • This type of therapy aims at helping a person change their behavior through various activities.
  • These events include helping children with their homework or working with them through emotional events.
  • Furthermore, behavioral therapy can help the individual monitor his or her behavior and teach them how to give themselves praise for controlling their emotions.

        Family And Marital Therapy:

  • During these sessions, family members and spouses may find better ways to handle their loved one’s disruptions and encourage positive behavior.
  • Those with ADHD can learn that there are people who care for them and want nothing more than to have them live their best lives
  • Lastly, these therapy sessions can educate loved ones about ADHD and provide steps to take in helping their loved ones.

        Specific Behavioral Classroom Strategies

  • Teachers can create strategies that help children focus better on their studies.
  • For instance, instructors can implement reward programs that are based on a point system. By giving individuals with ADHD rewards for displaying good control over their emotions, they gain more self-confidence.
  • There are also special education services that public schools offer for qualified children, which may be free for eligible families living in the school district.

Conclusion

An ADHD diagnosis does not need to be taken in a negative way. People with ADHD simply learn and think differently, and many, many successful people have learned how to navigate their diagnoses and even learned how to use their hyperactivity to their advantage. Ultimately, people with ADHD can live satisfying and enriching lives by having people in their lives who love and support them. If you or a loved one has ADHD, then please understand that if you show them support and love, they will be able to live and thrive with their disorder. Be sure to give your loved one the benefit of the doubt, and support them at every turn, so that their diagnosis does not become detrimental to their confidence. You might even be surprised to find that the ADHD of you or a loved one can show you how to view the world in different and exciting ways.