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ADHD as a developmental disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act recognizes Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a developmental disability.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), developmental disabilities are conditions that affect learning, language, physical, or behavioral areas. Common symptoms of ADHD may fall under these areas, such as difficulty sticking to a particular task or talking excessively.

Developmental disabilities can be severe, but not everyone with ADHD will find it impairs their daily life. ADHD can range from mild to severe during a person’s lifetime, often taking different forms too. Because of this, ADHD may not seem like it is a developmental disability.

This article explains whether ADHD is a developmental disability and how it can affect a person’s day-to-day life. It will also detail what symptoms to look for in childhood and adulthood.

A person can receive a diagnosis of ADHD either in childhood or later in life. The ADA recognizes ADHD as a disability, as well as the Social Security Administration, meaning they include ADHD under the act that provides accommodations for people with disabilities.

The CDC also recognizes ADHD as a developmental disability and provides funding for the National Resource Center on ADHD, a program that helps children and adults with the condition.

However, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke does not recognize ADHD as a developmental disorder. Instead, the organization recognizes it as a neurobehavioral disorder.

Neurobehavioral disorders are sometimes linked to brain diseases or traumatic brain injuries. Because of this, it can sometimes be hard to classify ADHD as a developmental disability.

ADHD and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a 1990 law that protects the rights of people with disabilities. This means it is illegal to:

  • discriminate against people with disabilities
  • avoid giving equal opportunities to people with or without disabilities
  • segregate people with disabilities in places such as school or work

Under this law, ADHD is a developmental disability. However, it depends on whether it is mild or severe and affects a person’s ability to work or participate in daily life.

Some requirements for receiving state or federal benefits for ADHD include having:

  • a diagnosis from childhood
  • symptoms so severe they interfere with daily life
  • symptoms so severe they make it impossible to work
  • measurable functional impairments in childhood, such as consistently turning up late or being unable to focus in class, that stem from ADHD
  • medical documentation that says a person has traits such as hyperactivity and impulsiveness
  • documentations that say a person has a marked impairment in age-appropriate cognitive, physical, and social function that stem from ADHD

With all of these criteria, it is possible to classify ADHD as a developmental disorder, but receiving benefits may prove difficult. It is also the same criteria for children.

Read all about ADHD here.

ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood but can also go undiagnosed until adulthood. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, most children receive a diagnosis in elementary school. For teenagers or adults to receive one, symptoms must be present before age 12.

ADHD can hinder child development and reduce a person’s health and well-being in the following ways:

  • increase in difficulties at school, such as focusing in class
  • higher risk of being expelled from school, resulting in limited education
  • higher chance of academic underperformance, which can jeopardize scholarship, graduate work, and career opportunities
  • social struggles with peers or family members
  • higher risk of being bullied and of bullying others
  • higher risk of conduct issues, such as fighting with others or experimenting with substances, such as alcohol or tobacco
  • emotional well-being issues, including anxiety, low self-esteem, lower psychosocial health, and overall lower quality of life
  • disruption to the lives of others around them, particularly siblings

These issues can begin in childhood and persist throughout adulthood. It is important to tell employers early about any ADHD diagnosis, as this can ensure a person has the right help and support throughout their work.

Many people with developmental disabilities, including ADHD, have healthy, fulfilling lives. There are many ways to effectively manage ADHD. Treatment for ADHD can begin in childhood. The CDC recommends several types of support from healthcare professionals, teachers, family members, therapists, and coaches.


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Medications can help with symptoms such as:

  • hyperactivity
  • impulsivity
  • difficulty focusing on work
  • difficulty learning

Stimulants can increase the number of brain chemicals, such as dopamine, that aid in thinking and behavior. Non-stimulant medications can also help improve focus and attention.


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Psychotherapy can help with negative emotions linked to ADHD, such as frustration, and help people cope. Psychotherapy can help educate parents about a diagnosis as well as help develop new ways of supporting and relating to each other.

Types of therapy may include:

  • behavioral therapy, which aims to change behavior
  • cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help a person become aware of their own thoughts
  • family and marital therapy
  • stress management techniques

Helping support children or adults navigating life with ADHD can be challenging, but resources are available. A person can also consider following these lifestyle strategies:

  • Make sure routine and schedule are paramount.
  • Keep such routines and schedules visual and front and center. For example, make digital calendar appointments or reminders on phones or in a place someone may look at every day, such as a fridge.
  • Practice consistency, whether at school or at work. Let it become a habit.

Many organizations, such as the CDC and Social Security Administration, classify ADHD as a developmental disorder. ADHD is also considered a disability under the ADA.

This means the condition can hinder development in children or adults, and a person may be entitled to federal and state benefits if it severely impairs their ability to function in day-to-day life.

ADHD symptoms can present as mild or severe. It is important to receive a diagnosis so a person can correctly manage and treat their condition. With treatment, it is possible to have a fulfilling personal, social, and work life.


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