Children With ADHD or ADD: How to Get SSI Disability Benefits

To be eligible for SSI benefits based on ADHD or ADD, a child must have severe limitations that meet strict criteria. A diagnosis by itself isn't enough.

Updated by , J.D., University of Missouri School of Law
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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that occurs in children and adults characterized by trouble paying attention, lack of impulse control, and hyperactivity. When the problem is predominantly an issue with attention span rather than hyperactivity and impulsivity, some call it attention deficit disorder, or ADD, but most doctors now use the term ADHD to refer to both types.

Children are more likely than adults to receive an ADHD or ADD diagnosis, and in many but not all cases, the condition improves with age.

If your family has low income and your child has been diagnosed with or exhibits the symptoms of ADHD or ADD, you might want to apply for disability benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. If approved, you'll receive a monthly check to help care for your child and pay living expenses.

But most children who have been diagnosed with ADHD or ADD will not be granted SSI disability benefits; only those with the most severe form of ADHD have any hopes of getting benefits.

When Can a Child With ADHD Get Disability Benefits?

If your family income and assets are low enough to qualify for SSI (see below), and if the severity of your child's ADHD meets the Social Security Administration's disability listing for neurodevelopmental disorders, your child will be granted benefits.

The disability listing used to evaluate ADHD is listing 112.11, which covers "neurodevelopmental disorders" in children. This listing requires that your child meet two sets of criteria.

First, your child must have one of the following ADHD symptoms:

  • hyperactive and impulsive behavior (such as difficulty remaining seated, difficulty waiting, restlessness, 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 learning difficulties.

Second, you must show that your child's ADHD causes them to have severe limitations in at least one area of functioning. Your child must have either an extreme limitation in one of the following areas or a "marked" (severe) limitation in two of the following areas:

  • concentrating on tasks (ignoring or avoiding distractions, completing tasks in a timely manner, engaging in an activity close to others without distracting them, engaging in an activity 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, protecting oneself from harm, setting goals, adapting to changes)
  • learning, understanding, and remembering information (learning new material, following oral instructions, using reason and judgment to make decisions).

Social Security will only approve your child's claim if his or her limitations are supported by solid medical and educational evidence.

Supporting Evidence for a Disability Claim Based on ADHD or ADD

To prove your child's ADHD meets the above standards, you need supporting documentation, such as:

  • medical findings, including treatment notes written by a doctor, a mental health professional, or a staff professional at a mental health facility
  • historical information from parents and teachers, such as teacher reports and evaluations, and
  • results of standardized testing, such as achievement testing and IQ testing.

Without a wealth of medical and educational evidence to support your child's limitations, your claim stands little chance of success.

Income and Asset Limits for SSI

Children can qualify for disability benefits only through the SSI program, which has strict income and assets limits. Children are not eligible for SSDI, or Social Security disability insurance benefits. (Learn about the difference between SSI and SSDI.)

A child's parents' income will be partly counted toward the SSI income limit. In addition, older children may not earn more than $1,470 per month at a job (as of 2023) and still qualify for SSI. For more information, see our section on SSI eligibility.

How Difficult Is It to Get Disability Benefits for ADHD?

It's not easy to get disability benefits for a child with ADHD. Part of the problem has to do with the subjective nature of how the Social Security Administration evaluates the condition. Most medical consultants who decide mental disability claims at the application level rely on the subjective observations of others, mostly teachers, to determine whether a child has an impairment and how severe it is.

Observations of behavior, of course, are always open to interpretation. In actuality, the only objective standards for evaluating ADHD disability claims are a student's school records and the results of standardized psychological testing. As a result, whether or not a child is found eligible for disability benefits almost always depends on their academics; that is, how well they're doing in school.

Under the rules Social Security uses to determine disability, an applicant's actual diagnosis is much less important than how that condition impacts the applicant's ability to engage in certain activities. For children, this means being able to adequately perform age-appropriate activities, such as functioning in school.

Therefore, to win an ADHD disability claim, it's not enough to be given an ADHD diagnosis. A child must also have measurable functional deficits in the context of school performance. If a child has adequate (grade-level) performance at school but has severe ADHD symptoms at home, even with accompanying serious behavioral issues, the child is unlikely to qualify for benefits.

How to Apply for SSI Benefits for Your Child

Applying for SSI disability benefits for your child is a two-step process. First, you should complete the online Child Disability Report, which asks how your child's condition affects his or her ability to function. (Before applying, be sure to review the SSI Child Disability Starter Kit on the SSA website.) If you don't feel comfortable filling the report out online, you can call Social Security at 800-772-1213 to set up an appointment, or simply walk into your local Social Security office.

After you've submitted the Child Disability Report, an SSA representative will call you to discuss the income and asset limits for the program and start the SSI application process.

You'll usually receive an initial decision on your application within three to five months. If denied, you have the right to appeal.

Getting Help With an SSI Application

Social Security is flooded with SSI applications for children with ADHD, and most of them are denied. Only those with the most severe and well-documented cases of ADHD are awarded benefits. To tip the scales in your favor, read our article on factors that can affect the disability decision for ADHD.

To maximize your chances of success, you should consider hiring a disability representative. Those who hire a lawyer to appeal a denial of benefits for ADHD have a higher approval rate than those who don't, because disability lawyers know how the system works and what kind of evidence is most persuasive to Social Security. Disability advocates and lawyers generally offer free consultations and only get paid if you win your case.

Updated December 30, 2022

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