Is My ADHD Son Eligible for Government Disability Benefits?


My 17-year-old has ADHD and has trouble following or remembering instructions. I worry about his being able to hold down a job. Can you tell me if he is eligible for government disability benefits?

ADDitude contributor Robert Tudisco is a practicing attorney with ADHD and an expert on special education law and disability advocacy.

ADDitude Answers

If a child with ADHD has an IEP, it should include a “transition plan” to prepare him for college or for vocational training after high school. If your son's school hasn’t formulated a plan, ask for a meeting with the Committee for Special Education, immediately, to find out why. In addition, I would suggest arranging for therapy and coaching for your son, which will enable him to take care of himself after he graduates from school.

If his ADHD symptoms are so severe that he can’t hold down a job, he may have a co-occurring condition or a learning disability. If so, he may qualify for governmental support under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources. Refer to the “Listed Impairment” section on the Social Security website (, to determine whether his specific disabilities qualify him for services. These may include vocational training, support for psychiatric services, and coverage of medication.

If your son qualifies, you will need documentation of his ADHD diagnosis, as well as school records to establish the severity of his condition. While I can’t guarantee that services will be granted, having a paper trail to document your claim will prove helpful.

Posted by Robert Tudisco

A Reader Answers

It is very hard to get Social Security Disability for any reason, particularly when it comes to disabilities that are not immediately obvious (such as mental disorders). And this has only become even more difficult now as the SSA is cracking down on judges who grant too many benefits. By way of background, I am an attorney (with ADHD) with experience in Social Security Disability law advocating on behalf of people with disabilities.

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you typically must be able to show that you cannot do even a sedentary job that requires only simple, repetitive tasks on a full-time basis. If you are 50+, the standard is slightly different and takes into account your past work.

You can also qualify under various impairments (called listings), but in addition to the specific requirements of each listing, you also must show that your disability has an extreme (or marked) affect on your ability to do at least two of the following: 1) attention, concentration and pace; 2) activities of daily living (getting dressed, hygiene, functioning on day-to-day basis); or 3) social interactions (cannot be around people at all).

Then, you have to have medical records to back up your claim and show that your condition prevents you from working for at least one year. That means you have to have regular and ongoing treatment (usually at least once per month) and the support of your doctor. This is all stuff that you have to show the SSA, and if you do not have this information, they have a reason to deny your claim.

I am not providing this information to persuade you or your son to not pursue a claim, but to help you realize that it is an uphill battle and you need to make sure you have the data to prove your claim. An attorney can review your claim and help you with this process, and because of the strict regulation of attorneys fees in this area of law, they cannot charge you any fees unless they win the case (in which case the fees come directly from the SSA). The only costs you may have to cover is the cost of getting your medical records.

Posted by rivkaahava

A Reader Answers

I know that being able to get SSI for a child depends on your income and child support. It can be given for children with ADHD, if they're still living with you. I know a few single moms who get it, but they do not get any child support. Not sure how it would work for your adult son.

Posted by djb

A Reader Answers

I have seen the extremes.

I have seen people with no other options get denied.

I have seen people well-versed in the system get fake diagnoses approved.

And everything in between.

My personal belief is that for ADHD, it would need to be really severe where you can in good faith show the fiscal impact of the disability.

Posted by Dr. Eric

A Reader Answers

My son has a diagnosis of ADHD with ODD tendencies. We were denied SSI based on income but were approved for Medical Assistance regardless of income based on his qualifying diagnosis (loophole in the insurance). In order to be approved for MA, we had to include a SSI denial letter.

Lots of red tape but SO worth it. Last year MA saved us approx $3k. Our private insurance has a $5k deductible. MA picked up my son’s OT, PT, speech and dental.

Good luck!

Posted by mbren

A Reader Answers

If you are disabled, you are unable to do any kind of work under the current standards. If medication makes your son able to work, then he would not be considered disabled for monetary benefits, but could seek accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act. There is a huge difference.

Disability benefits are either based on previous earnings, or on the basis of the cost of living in your area, or a combination of the two. To get benefits under the current system, you have to be unable to perform any kind of work with or without medication or accommodation.

Being unwilling to work for a lower wage when you enter the workforce has nothing whatever to do with being disabled.

If medication enables your son to work, then he should do so. If he is working, then he has a better chance to obtain health coverage that will cover his needs and necessary medications. Asking about benefits is expected in the job interview process.

If he is not employed right now, then he needs to find work that provides benefits for him, or become self-employed and provide his own benefits for health coverage. It is a tax deductible thing for you if you are self-employed.

Everybody has to start somewhere. Nobody really starts at the top of the ladder. They start at entry level and work their way up over time.

If he is not working and has no coverage, then he should apply for medical assistance. His county welfare system can help him with that process.

If he is able to work with medication, then he should go find work that will allow him to gradually move up. As I said, “nobody starts at the top.”

There are public mental health programs that he might be eligible for, so check them out. You would probably find them in the county government listings of the phone book.

Posted by Dianne in the Desert

Read the original ADDConnect discussion here.


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Since Robert Tudisco was diagnosed with ADHD, he has researched and written extensively on the subject of special education law and disability advocacy, and now specializes in the area as a practicing attorney. He is a former Executive Director of the Edge Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides specialized coaches for students with ADHD and Executive Functioning Impairment. He has served on the National Board of Directors of CHADD and is a former Vice President of ADDA. He is a frequent resource for the media, including CBS News, New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, ABC News, The BBC, The Today Show, CNN, USA Today, and The Seattle Times.
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