ADHD - Condition and Symptoms
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a chronic neuropsychiatric condition that affects both children and adults characterized by an inability to focus attention and complete actions. ADHD symptoms range from moderate to extreme and often impact a person’s ability to complete educational goals, retain a job, and sustain interpersonal relationships. The coping mechanisms of individuals suffering from ADHD are easily overwhelmed, and their actions often seem chaotic and disorganized to others. Adults affected by ADHD often struggle with associated conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Up to 60% of children diagnosed with ADHD continue to suffer from this condition as adults. Adult ADHD is also referred to as Adult ADHA, Adult ADD, and AADD. While many of the symptoms of ADHD can be evidenced by people not suffering from the condition, particularly during periods of fatigue or high stress, individuals affected by ADHD will have exhibited since childhood multiple combinations of symptoms so severe that they continually interfere with their lives.
Is ADHD A Disability?
ADHD is a disability in the United States under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, section 504, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, if ADHD is severe and interferes with a person's capacity to work or engage in the public sector, it is deemed a protected disability.
There are three types of ADHD: the inattentive type, the hyperactive-impulsive type, and a combined type. Type classification of the disorder simply indicates the preponderance of similar symptoms (more of a tendency toward the inability to pay attention, more of a tendency to restless behavior and mental activity, or a combination of both).
There is no specific test that diagnoses ADHD. Instead, the physician pieces together evidence of symptoms and determines how long these symptoms have been a limiting factor in a patient’s life. In general, to be diagnosed as having ADHD, symptoms must have been present since early childhood (prior to age 7) and must be severe enough to have interfered with at least two areas of an individual’s life.
ADHD always starts in childhood, although it may not have been diagnosed or treated. Often, a genetic link may be inferred if there is a family history of ADHD, ADHD-type symptoms, learning disabilities, mood disorders, or substance abuse.
In order to substantiate a diagnosis, a physician may supplement a patient’s medical and behavioral history with a neuropsychiatric evaluation, which may include WAIS, BADDS, and/or WURS tests. These tests are used to create some objective evidence of ADHD and to rule out other conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. A physical evaluation may be used to rule out diseases such as hyperthyroidism which can result in symptoms similar to ADHD.
Individuals suffering from Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder will often have a history of frequent behavior problems, and reports from school and work situations often state that a person has not lived up to their potential. A common indicator of ADHD is a history of bedwetting past the age of 5. Other common symptoms of the condition include short attention span, inattention to detail, being easily distracted or bored, physical restlessness, inability to listen to and follow directions, anxiety, impulsive actions and speech, low tolerance for frustration, poor organizational skills, being easily overwhelmed by ordinary tasks, procrastination, inability to finish a task, a chronic sense of underachievement and poor self esteem, mood swings, trouble sustaining friendships or intimate relationships, a need for high stimulation (doing many things at once or thrill seeking), a tendency to worry needlessly and endlessly, poor writing and fine motor skills, poor coordination, performance anxiety, difficulty falling asleep and difficulty coming awake, low energy, and hypersensitivity to noise and touch.
The causes of ADHD are not known for certain. Among the possible causes are genetic factors, brain injury, prenatal smoking and alcohol use by the mother, exposure to high levels of lead, sugar, and food additives such as artificial colors and preservatives.
ADHD is treated with a combination of medication, behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and skills training.
Filing for Social Security Disability with an ADHD Diagnosis
The fact that ADHD always begins in early childhood is important because while ADHD is listed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) under Section 112.11 of the Blue Book, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the listing applies to children. There is no similar section for adults. If you are able to prove that you have had ADHD since childhood, and if you can show that this condition has impaired your ability to do schoolwork as a child and to be gainfully employed as an adult, your condition may be considered severe enough to get disability benefits.
An ADHD diagnosis, in and of itself, is not enough to qualify for disability benefits. As a child, you must have had measurable functional impairments (which show up as recurring poor performance in school) and as an adult, you must have measurable functional impairments that keep you from working. You must also meet the requirements of both Paragraph A and Paragraph B below. (Although both paragraphs apply to childhood ADHD, it is advisable that be sure you meet the same requirements in order to be eligible for benefits as an adult.)
You must possess acceptable medical documentation which finds that you have all three of the following symptoms:
- Marked inattention; and
- Marked impulsiveness; and
- Marked hyperactivity.
You must possess acceptable supporting documentation that shows you have at least two of the three following conditions, resulting from ADHD:
- Marked impairment in age-appropriate cognitive/communication function; and/or
- Marked impairment in age-appropriate social functioning; and/or
- Marked impairment in age-appropriate personal functioning.
Acceptable documentation means medical findings (a physician’s or psychiatrist’s treatment notes), historical information (discussed above), and standardized test results (IQ, achievement, etc.).
Because determination of an ADHD diagnosis is quite subjective, it can be difficult to win disability benefits based solely on this condition. The determination of disability relies to a great extent on the opinions of those who have contributed to your historical documentation, such as teachers and employers. As individual opinions, based on personal observations made long before the time of the disability case review, can often vary greatly and are always open to interpretation, they provide a far weaker foundation for an SSDI claim than objective physical and medical evidence.
Your ADHD Disability Case
If you are disabled because of severe ADHD symptoms that prevent you from working, and if you have sufficient supporting documentation, you may well be entitled to Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits. Although total disability based on an ADHD diagnosis can be difficult to prove compared to other disabling conditions, working closely with medical professionals and a qualified Social Security Disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation to support your claim in front of the Disability Determination Services (DDS) can help to ensure that your ADHD disability case will have the highest possible chance of success.