Is ADHD a Disability? Discover the Facts and Insights Here

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
May 21, 2024

When you think of disabilities, what pops into your head? Maybe wheelchairs, crutches, or hearing aids?

Those are all legit examples, but here's a mind-blowing revelation: disabilities do not come in just one flavor. They come in sooo many different shapes and sizes, and not all of them wave their hands 🙋 and shout, Hey, look at me, right off the bat. 😏

Take ADHD, for instance. If you have it, focusing becomes a Herculean task, impulse control takes a vacation, and staying still? Hah, not possible, my friend. 

Let’s break it down to make it easier to grasp the concept:

  • ADHD is short for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (quite a tongue twister, huh?)
  • There are actually 3 types of ADHD; (why settle for just one, right?)
  • And get this: ADHD is not just a kid thing; it can tag along into adulthood, too (like an eternal plus-one)
  • People with ADHD often struggle with paying attention (surprise!), staying organized (but we never give up on color-coded calendars), and keeping those emotions in check (cue the dramatic music).
  • It can turn school, work, and everyday tasks into a giant tornado of obstacles. (1) (2) (3) (4) 

The answer to the million-dollar question: “Is ADHD considered a disability?” might not be what you were hoping for, though. It is not as simple as yes or no

So, in this article, we will:

  • Dig deep into the official classification of ADHD as a disability
  • Uncover how it can impact different aspects of life
  • Discover the perks and obstacles that come along with the wild ride.

So, are you ready?

[Understanding Disability]Understanding Disability

Before we tackle the question about ADHD, let us start by understanding what a disability is. Like, in general.

So, we will take a laptop as an example. Think about buying a brand-new laptop with fantastic specifications but lacks the power to handle those graphic-intensive games you love.

Well, in a similar vein, disability can be likened to this laptop situation. 

It's when something is not working as expected in someone’s body or mind. As with a laptop that cannot handle gaming needs, disabilities can limit daily activities and participation in different areas of life. (5)

The spectrum of disabilities

They come in different shapes and sizes, such as:

  • Physical, 
  • Sensory, 
  • Cognitive, and
  • Intellectual impairments, 
  • Mental illnesses, or 
  • Various types of chronic diseases.

They can mess with your:

👀 Vision (influencing how well you see and perceive the world around you)

👂 Hearing (affecting your ability to hear and enjoy the sounds in your environment)

🧠 Thinking (shaping how your brain processes information and solves problems)

📚 Learning (involving difficulties with reading, writing, and other academic skills)

🏃 Movement (influencing coordination and physical abilities)

😄 Mental health (impacting emotions and overall psychological well-being) 

🧠 Memory (influencing the ability to remember and recall information)

🗣️ Communicating (affecting the way you express yourself and interact with others)

👥 Social relationships (shaping how you connect and engage with people around you) (8) (9)

Phew! What a list!

Keep in mind: these are just a few examples of the countless types of disabilities out there—each with its own distinctive quirks and hurdles to overcome.

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Is ADHD Considered a Disability?

Legally speaking, yes. 

ADHD is officially recognized as a disability under two crucial acts: 

  1. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - a generalist 
  2. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - specialized for military and government folks.

These legal frameworks acknowledge that individuals with ADHD may face unique challenges and require accommodations to ensure equal opportunities in various areas of life.

But… There is always a but. 

Having ADHD is not always enough. To receive legal protection, you must prove that you have difficulty doing essential things, such as thinking, working, or even breathing.

Depending on the severity of ADHD symptoms, someone can qualify for different accommodations and benefits.

More severe symptoms = Higher level of accommodations 

Some may qualify for particular help at work or school. On the other hand, individuals with more severe ADHD might even manage to get government-funded benefits. (10)

We will cover this up a bit later.

[Everyday Challenges]How ADHD Shapes Everyday Challenges

Now that we stated that it is legally considered a disability, you might wonder what kind of disability it is.

Gonna start by answering the age-old question.

Is ADHD a learning disability?

ADHD and learning disabilities can often go hand in hand, but they are different. 

ADHD affects your ability to pay attention, stay organized, and control impulses. Yes, it can throw a curveball into the learning game and mess with your academic performance.

And some folks with ADHD also happen to have learning disabilities on top of it all. Yet…

ADHD ≠ learning disability (20) (21)

Is ADHD a mental disability?

Answering this question is a little tricky. You may don’t like using these terms because of the stigma surrounding them. 

According to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), ADHD is officially a mental disorder

So, mental disorder + disability as labels = ADHD technically is a mental disability. (22)

But that doesn’t mean you are broken or less capable. You only need to learn how to live with it and not get into the fight with all those hidden symptoms every day.

[Legal Protection]Legal Protection at Work ADHD

We mentioned the legal protections and accommodations you can get as someone with ADHD. You may find yourself pondering whether legal safeguards extend to your workplace rights.

The short answer is yes! Thanks to the ADA, adults with ADHD have certain rights and safeguards in the workplace. 

Yet, the ADA has its own limits.

  1. If you work in a small company with 15 employees or fewer, the ADA's protective umbrella won't be there to shield you. (sorry, folks!)
  2. If you're serving in the military or part of the federal government workforce, the ADA won't directly cover you either. (the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 steps up here)

So, to answer the “Is ADHD a disability under the ADA” question, let’s sum up:

  • You work at a company with 15+ employees - ADA 👍
  • You work at a company with less than 15 employees - ADA 👎
  • You are a military member - ADA 👎; but the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 👍
  • You work for the federal government - ADA 👎; but the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 👍

How much is a disability check for ADHD?

God lord! I just remembered that I had to tell you this. 

To get some cash (for your ADHD as a disability, right?) from the government, your ADHD symptoms must be severe (and have lasted for at least one year). (23)

And how much do you get if you pass the test?

There’s no reliable and specific information about that. However, most people say it is hard to get the cash, but if you get it somehow, it is a spare.

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Who decides how severe my ADHD is?

For financial help (SSI - supplemental security income), it is all up to State agencies funded by the Federal Government. 

In most other cases, a note from your doctor confirming your ADHD diagnosis should do all the hard work. Remember to communicate clearly what kind of accommodations you need at the workplace. 

Let me guess: you didn’t expect it to be this simple, am I right?

If you have a boss who is super cool and open about ADHD, you might not even need to go through all the usual formalities.

This conversation can help:

  • your boss to understand your disability and the challenges you face at work;
  • you find reasonable and effective ways to adapt the working conditions to it.

Ok, you may not ask for an in-house masseuse to help you focus, but you can always request:

  • A quiet workspace (or you can wear noise-canceling headphones or earplugs);
  • Working from home (at least part of the time);
  • Flexible work schedule (you might be a night owl or prefer to work at 5am);
  • Written instructions (because not gonna remember what they said; not even gonna process it);
  • Taking breaks whenever you need to recharge (the Pomodoro technique can help here);
  • A standing desk (or the ability to take short walks or runs… or boxing sessions);
  • Minimizing any non-essential tasks (so you can keep focus on your core duties);
  • Assistive techs like timers, apps, and calendars (or a giant whiteboard in front of your working table).

[Perks of having ADHD]Perks of having ADHD

Alright, living with ADHD can indeed bring its fair share of challenges, no doubt about it. But if you ask me and the folks I know who have ADHD, 👀 none of us would trade our unique brains for a so-called "typical" one.

You might think we are crazy, 🧐 but not in this case. 

It’s only that… when we do the math (however we do it), the benefits outweigh the challenges.

There are so many reasons you can hear someone call ADHD a superpower rather than a disability, like:

  1. Creativity (nobody can connect seemingly unrelated ideas like ADHDers)
  2. Unique perspective ➡ innovative solutions, artistic masterpieces…
  3. Out-of-the-box thinking (look at what Richard Branson has been doing) (19)
  4. Hyperfocus (because we never heard of the golden middle)
  5. Self-awareness (we understand our emotions and detect the triggers pretty fast)
  6. Resilience (that’s what you get when you have to learn to live as a neurodivergent in a neurotypical world) (17) (18)
  7. Sense of humor (often self-judgmental and sarcastic, but not less funny) 

So, yeah… Coping with ADHD is not easy for everyone, but look at all those successful people with ADHD. If they could deal with it, why couldn’t you?

[The Power of Community]The Power of Community

And just like for everything else in life, being a part of a community (in this case, the ADHD community) makes things much more manageable (and fun). 

That’s why the Numo app is our not-so-secret, gotta-pay-the-bills plug. 

But seriously, have you ever seen something similar to Numo - the app that merges science with memes? On top of that, it is 100% cringe-free. 

It will help you organize the tasks, unlike all the boring to-do lists that never worked longer than two days. Why is this one different?

Well, it is because it is your personal assistant and stand-up comedian at the same time. 

But also… the community

Nobody can understand you and your ADHD paralysis better than fellow ADHDers who experience the same thing almost daily; therefore, nobody else can lift you up in those situations.

You thought that was it?

What if I told you that inside the app, you can learn about your condition and understand it even better? Multiple short stories can help you with time management, organization, relationships… 

Do you lack some motivation or struggle with emotional dysregulation? 

We thought of that, too.

Because, guess what — the CEO of the app is an ADHDer herself; you have already heard of Julia, I know. But there is no harm in repeating it.

[Summing Up]Summing Up

Ok, I would like to sum up what we have learned today:

  • Disability is present in numerous sizes and forms.
  • ADHD is a disability (but it does not define you, pal).
  • If you live in the US, you may try to get some accommodations and legal protection at work (I have yet to mention this, but the situation in Europe is quite different; they are trying their best, tho).
  • Talking openly to your boss can save your gluteus maximus at work.
  • ADHD can affect learning, but it is not a learning disability.
  • ADHD is not all about challenges; it also has its good sides. (fun fact: they turn ADHD into a superpower).
  • Being a part of an ADHD community is life-changing (no pun intended, but…)

Now, when I look at it this way, I can say that we have taken a wild ride through the world of ADHD and its relationship to disability.

Decision paralysis, executive dysfunction, hypersensitivity, and all the drawbacks we blame on ADHD are just one side of the story. Flip the coin and... ta-da! Meet the remarkable strengths that also come with the condition.

Do you need a reminder for that, too? Gosh…

Just kidding… Reminders are our forte. I promise we will not bore you with the notifications. But we will do our best to assure you never forget how amazing you are.

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What is ADHD? 
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Data and Statistics About ADHD 
3. National Library of Medicine: The worldwide prevalence of ADHD: is it an American condition? 
4. National Institution of Mental Health: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) 
5. World Health Organization: Disability 
6. Australian Public Service Commission: Disability Myths and Stereotypes
7. Mark Wynn Consulting: Common Myths and Misconceptions About Disability 
8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Disability and Health Overview 
9. Disabled World: Disabilities: Definition, Types and Models of Disability 
10. Health Line: Is ADHD a Disability? 
11. The Institute of Leadership & Management: Workplace Neurodiversity: The Power Of Difference
12. ADA National Network: What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
13. Guide to Disability Rights Laws 
14. U.S. Department of Labor: Section 504, Rehabilitation Act of 1973 
15. ADHD in Practice: ADHD and its Recognition across Europe as a Disability
16. BMC Psychiatry: The impact of ADHD symptoms and global impairment in childhood on working disability in mid-adulthood: a 28-year follow-up study using official disability pension records in a high-risk in-patient population
17. National Library of Medicine: Creativity and ADHD: A review of behavioral studies, the effect of psychostimulants and neural underpinnings 
18. National Library of Medicine: Living "in the zone": hyperfocus in adult ADHD 
19. ADHD UK: Famous People with ADHD 
20. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Learning Disabilities 
21. Foothills Academy: Confusing ADHD with Learning Disabilities 
22. National Library of Medicine: Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ASD and ADHD): DSM-5, ICD-10, and ICD-11 
23. Gillette Law Group: Social Security Disability Benefits For Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD) 
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