Are Accommodations for me?
If you are an adult who was recently diagnosed with ADHD, you’ve probably developed your own coping mechanisms or “tools” to manage your symptoms. These “tools” are created through our lived experiences, and are unique to each individual, though their universal purpose is to help us navigate the neurotypical word around us.
This leads to two types of adults with late-diagnosis ADHD:
- You hardly notice your symptoms, perform well at work and earn high grades in school. You may think, “I don’t deserve accommodations, I’m getting by just fine.”
- You notice that your symptoms impact various parts of your day. They affect your performance. through tardiness, procrastination, or an inability to get started. You may think, “If I just try harder, I’ll be able to do it just like everyone else.“
To both groups, I ask this: Are you at risk for ADHD burnout?
Some individuals are uncomfortable asking for accommodations for an “invisible disability”. Think of accommodations as a version of self care, providing you with the necessary support your brain needs. Receiving such support for ADHD or other executive functioning deficits allows your brain to regulate its level of processing, reducing end-of-day fatigue, stress, depression, and burnout.
In this guide, we will take a deeper look at the process of receiving ADHD accommodations at work and school. We’ll delve into some of the accommodations that might be useful for adults with ADHD, discuss when and how to initiate these discussions, and provide you with actionable steps to navigate the legal and logistical aspects effectively.
About the Author
My name is Melissa and I am an Executive Function and ADHD Coach. I received my ADHD diagnosis in my late 20s– after I had already struggled through my undergraduate degree, beginning of my career, and most of my master’s degree without accommodations. I am a high achiever who loves to procrastinate, and just prior to receiving my diagnosis and accommodations, I was struggling through ADHD burnout. You can read more about my experience ADHD burnout here.
ADHD Accommodations for Common Symptoms
ADHDers may experience difficulty with managing time, otherwise referred to as “time blindness”. This may affect our ability to predict how much time is needed to complete each task. As a result, it may be difficult to prepare for, or remember, assignments that are due later in the week, month, or year.
- Divide complex or large assignments into several smaller tasks
- Set a timer for 15, 30, or 60 minutes where you only work on the specific task
- Provide a to-do list of assignments
- Plan time for breaks and shifts in activities
- Use a wall calendar to emphasize due dates
- Yes these are old-fashioned these days, but ADHDers often experience “out of sight, out of mind” forgetfulness. The calendar keeps your assignments in sight
- Develop a color-coded system (each color represents a task, class, level of importance, etc)
- Partner with a co-worker, classmate or supervisor to double-check entries added to the calendar
ADHDers may experience memory deficits, which may affect their ability to remember tasks, complete duties on time, or recall daily activities.
- Provide written instructions
- Record meetings
- Allow additional training time for tasks
- Follow up meeting and feedback with written recaps
- Use flow-chart to indicate steps in a task
- Use notebooks, planners, or sticky notes to record information
- Use sticky notes or alarms as reminders of important dates or tasks
ADHDers may struggle with concentration, often attributed to auditory, cognitive and/or visual distractions. Distractions such as office traffic, coworkers’ conversations, or sitting near a busy window or lunch room can be problematic.
- For auditory distractions:
- Provide a noise canceling headset
- Provide a white noise machine
- Relocate individual’s desk away from audible distractions or redesign office space
- For visual distractions:
- Install privacy screens
- Reduce clutter in the individual’s work environment
- Relocate individual’s desk away from visible distractions or redesign office space
- Breaks for mental fatigue, including short walks, getting up for a drink of water, and switching to another task
- Job restructuring so the most difficult tasks are performed at the time of day the individual has the most mental energy
- Allow the individual to perform tasks that require high concentration in a private room, free from distractions. Such tasks include exam taking, recording minutes, data analysis, etc.
Organization and Prioritization
ADHDers may have difficulty getting and staying organized, or prioritizing tasks at work or school.
- Use a color-coding scheme to prioritize tasks, categorize by task type, or by class
- Use weekly schedule to plan activities
- Use an ADHD coach to teach/reinforce organization skills
- Allow supervisor to assign prioritization of tasks
- Assign new project only when previous project is complete, if possible
- Provide a “cheat sheet” of tasks that must be completed daily
- Schedule a weekly time to organize work space and discard clutter
- Take time at the end of each day to reflect, organize and set a schedule for the next day
ADHDers may experience difficulty performing multiple tasks at once. We often feel like we need to keep a running list of all of our tasks in our head, making it hard to focus on the task at hand.
- Use a to-do list to record tasks, and work down the list one at a time
- Create a flow-chart of tasks that must be performed at the same time, strategically labeling or color-coding each step in order
- Identify tasks that must be performed simultaneously and tasks that can be performed alone
- Supply ergonomic equipment to facilitate multi-tasking, such as a headset
- Assign specific parts of the day to answer emails or return phone calls
- Clearly explain performance standards such as completion time, productivity metrics or accuracy rates. Provide this information in writing
ADHDers may experience an exasperation of their symptoms if they are understimulated or bored. While too much stimulation can be distracting, the right amount can greatly improve focus.
- Allow the individual to have a “fidget toy” they can play with discreetly, such as a stress ball or chewing gum
- Assign tasks that are the appropriate challenge level to be interesting but not overwhelming
- Partner the individual with a “body double” who does the same job, working side by side
- Allow the individual to switch up tasks and move around throughout the day
- Allow the individual the use of ear buds or headphones for auditory stimulation, if appropriate
- Delegate monotonous or easy tasks to others, when possible
Getting There on Time
ADHDers may struggle to get to work or school on time for various reasons including time blindness or memory difficulties (where’d I put my keys?!) Because it is the responsibility of the employee/student to arrive on time, the following ideas may help with your morning routine and schedule:
- Set a rule for keeping your most-often lost items in a specific place (keys, wallet, glasses)
- Chose your outfit and pack your lunch, bag or purse the night before
- Create a checklist for yourself and others
- Place sticky notes of important reminders on the bathroom mirror, steering wheel, or wherever you’ll see them
- Set a timer or alarm to pace yourself and stay on schedule
How to Ask for Accommodations
It may feel daunting to request for accommodations, but you can rest at ease knowing that employers with 15 or more employees are legally required to provide them, whenever possible. ADHD is a qualifying diagnosis under The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The first step is to contact your manager or human resources department. If you are looking for accommodations at school, you will start with your Disability Services department. While they often have different names at different schools, each school is required to have a dedicated department for these services. If you don’t know who to contact, you can start with asking a teacher or the admissions office.
Note: You are not required to provide any information about your specific diagnosis to your employer. You may simply state that you have a qualifying disability under the ADA and need to request accommodations.
Once you are connected with the appropriate department, they will guide you through the rest of the process. They will ask about the specific accommodations that you are requesting, and may ask that you provide a letter from a licensed professional. Once the appropriate documentation is received, the department (human resources, or disability services) will work with your manager or teachers to ensure that the proper accommodations are in place.
# Tips and Reminders
- You are 100% deserving of accommodations at your workplace and/or school. ADHD is an “invisible disability”, and it is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- It’s recommended that you meet with a coach or healthcare provider to determine which accommodations work best for you.
- Your needs for accommodations may change over time, and you’re allowed to change them as often as needed.
- Check in with yourself often to assess if you are experiencing burnout. If so, an adjustment to your accommodations or schedule may be necessary while you recover.
While it can feel uncomfortable to ask for accommodations for an “invisible disability”, it doesn’t have to be! Your right to receive accommodations at work and/or school for ADHD is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you feel that there is something in the list above that may help you succeed, don’t hesitate to meet with your HR/Disability department to discuss your needs. Accommodations are important because they not only support your professional performance, but they are also a form of self-care. They provide you with the resources you need so that you can worry less, accomplish more, and live a balanced life.
One Last Thought…
If you come home at the end of the day and are exhausted, mentally and physically, consider that this may be related to your executive functioning deficits (which means it’s treatable!)
I’m inviting you to explore the role that accommodations could have in your life. If you would like to know more, head to my website to book a complimentary chemistry session! ADHD coaching is a valuable resource, where you have the space to openly explore your experience with neurodivergence. Together, we will discuss your symptoms and needs for support, then work on developing skills and mindsets to make your ADHD work for you.