Can You Get Disability Benefits if Your Child Has ADHD or ADD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or attention deficit disorder (ADD), is sometimes diagnosed in children who exhibit impulsiveness, inattention, or hyperactivity to a degree that isn't appropriate for their age. If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, he or she can qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits if the severity of the child’s ADHD meets the Social Security Administration’s impairment listings for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (listing 112.11 of the Children’s Listings). This is not an easy thing to do; most children with ADHD are denied SSI benefits; only those with the most severe problems are approved.

Severity Requirements for Qualification Under the Official ADHD Listing

The severity requirements in the SSA's impairment listing for ADHD have two parts, both of which must be satisfied.

First, you must have medically documented findings that your child has severe inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity (all three are required). These problems must cause serious interference with an age-appropriate ability to function.

Second, your child must have specific functional impairments caused by ADHD. What functional impairments are required depend on the child's age. For children over one but under three years of age, the child must have at least one of the following impairments:

  • gross or fine motor development typical of children half the child’s chronological age or younger
  • cognitive or communicative functioning typical of children half the child’s chronological age or younger (such as the inability to use simple verbal or non-verbal behavior to communicate basic needs or concepts)
  • social functioning typical of children half the child’s chronological age or younger (such as a “serious inability” to achieve age-appropriate autonomy, as demonstrated by extreme clinginess or separation anxiety), or
  • any two of the previous three impairments, if the child is impaired such that he or she functions at a level typical of the level of functioning possessed by children two-third's of the child’s chronological age or younger.

For children between the ages of three and 18, the child must have two of the following four impairments:

  • severe impairment in age-appropriate cognitive or communicative functions
  • severe impairment in age-appropriate social functioning
  • severe impairment in age-appropriate personal functioning, and/or
  • severe difficulty in the child’s maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace.

How to Document Your Child’s ADHD Impairments

Make sure to include all of the medical evidence and psychological test results you have that demonstrate your child's abnormality. Standardized tests are generally preferred to other evidence, but standardized tests are not always available for every set of symptoms or for every age. (But make sure that the person who administers any standardized test is properly qualified and licensed to do so.)

Be sure to provide names, addresses, and phone numbers for every doctor, psychologist, therapist or clinic that has seen the child for ADHD-related reasons, as well as any medication information.

For children under the age of three, a particularly good source of evidence is early childhood intervention programs, including records of therapists, nurses, social workers, and special educators, as a complement to records from physicians or psychologists.

For older children, school records and teachers' observations can also be a good source of evidence, and can show the consistency or progression of impairments over time.

You can also document your own observations and the observations of anyone else who knows your child and has observed his or her difficulties (for example, teachers, coaches). Your own observations will likely involve the child’s functional abilities in daily living and social situations. The medical documentation you submit should reflect and corroborate your own observations (as well as that of relatives, teachers, and so on).

Applying for SSI Disability Benefits for Your Child with ADHD

You can call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 or contact your local SSA office to submit an application. Your claim for benefits, including all of the information and records you provide, will be evaluated by a claims examiner, who will request any further information or records it may need. (The longer the SSA has to wait for medical or school records, the longer it will take to decide your claim.) The SSA will then make a determination on your child's case.

If your claim is denied (as most initial claims for ADHD are), you have the right to an appeal. If your appeal goes to a hearing in front of an administrative law judge, and you feel that your child is severely limited by his or her ADHD, you should try to bring a disability lawyer to the hearing.

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