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

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, they could qualify for SSI disability benefits if the ADHD causes severe limitations.

By , Attorney UC Law San Francisco
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney Seattle University School of Law
Updated 6/21/2023

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. Children with ADHD or ADD who come from low-income families and whose symptoms significantly interfere with their social and intellectual development can, in some cases, receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits.

Is ADHD a Disability?

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD or ADD they may qualify for SSI disability benefits—but it's not easy. You'll need to show that the severity of the child's ADHD symptoms meets or functionally equals the Social Security Administration's childhood impairment listing for neurodevelopmental disorders (listing 112.11).

How Children With ADHD Can Qualify for SSI Under the Neurodevelopmental Listing

The name of Social Security's listing 112.11, which used to be Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is now Neurodevelopmental Disorders, and it encompasses more medical conditions. Under the current listing, you must show evidence that your child's ADHD or ADD is characterized by at least one of the following:

  • hyperactive and impulsive behavior (such as difficulty remaining seated, difficulty waiting, appearing restless, talking excessively, or behaving as if being "driven by a motor")
  • frequent distractibility (with difficulty sustaining attention and difficulty organizing tasks)
  • recurrent motor movement or vocalization, or
  • significant difficulties in school learning and using academic skills.

You also need to show that your child's ADHD or ADD causes a high degree of limitations in certain areas of functioning. Your child must have either an "extreme" limitation in one of the following areas or a "marked" limitation in two of the following areas:

  • concentrating on tasks (ignoring or avoiding distractions, completing tasks in a timely manner, working close to others without distracting them, working at an appropriate and consistent pace)
  • interacting with others (cooperating with others, maintaining friendships, handling conflicts with others)
  • adapting or managing oneself (controlling one's behavior, being aware of risks, setting goals, adapting to changes)
  • learning, understanding, and remembering information (learning new things, following oral instructions, using reason and judgment to make decisions).

Extreme limitations are more severe than marked limitations. For example, if your child needs extra guidance and time in order to complete homework assignments—but does eventually complete them—Social Security is likely to find that they have a marked limitation in concentration. But if your child is unable to finish their homework at all, the agency will likely consider that to be an extreme limitation.

How Children With ADHD Can Get SSI By "Functionally Equaling" a Listing

Even if your child doesn't meet the specific requirements of listing 112.11, they can still qualify for SSI benefits if you can show that their symptoms are severe enough to be functionally equivalent to the listings. Children with ADHD that functionally "equals" a listing are just as disabled as children whose symptoms meet the requirements exactly, but their disability manifests itself in a different way.

To functionally equal a listing, you'll still need to show that your child has an extreme limitation in one, or marked limitations in two, functional areas. However, Social Security uses slightly different functional areas, called domains, to decide if your child's ADHD is functionally equivalent to the listings. The six domains encompass a broader range of behaviors, both mental and physical:

  • acquiring and using information
  • attending and completing tasks
  • interacting and relating to others
  • moving about and manipulating objects
  • taking care of oneself, and
  • health and physical well-being.

For more information, see our article on how your child can qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Documenting Your Child's ADHD Impairments

Make sure to include all of the medical evidence and psychological test results you have that demonstrate any abnormalities in your child's behavior. Standardized tests are generally preferred to other evidence, but they aren't always available for every set of symptoms or for every age. If you can have your child take a standardized test, make sure the person who administers any standardized test is properly qualified and licensed to do so.

Be sure to provide Social Security with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of every doctor, psychologist, therapist, or clinic that has seen the child for ADHD-related reasons. Let the agency know about any medications your child is taking, including whether they're effective in controlling ADHD symptoms and if they cause any side effects. School records and teachers' observations can be a good source of evidence and can show the consistency or progression of your child's symptoms over time.

You can also document your own observations, along with those of anyone else who knows your child and has seen them struggle with ADHD—for example, teachers or coaches. Your own observations should include any difficulties your child has with daily functioning and social interactions, such as picking up after themselves or making friends. The medical records you submit should support your observations as well as those from your child's relatives and teachers.

Applying for SSI Disability Benefits for Your Child with ADHD

You can call the Social Security Administration (SSA) at 800-772-1213 or contact your local SSA office to submit an application ("claim") for SSI. Your child's 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 they may need to help decide your claim.

The longer the SSA has to wait for medical or school records, the longer it will take the agency to make a decision, so it's in your interest to keep the SSA in the loop about your child's treatment.

The SSA will then make a determination on your child's case. If your child's 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, consider bringing a disability lawyer to the hearing who can help explain to the judge how your child's functional limitations from ADHD are disabling.

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