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Vocational Rehabilitation for Adults with ADHD
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by Frank Potter

Adults with ADHD often have career questions.  Whether it’s a young adult wondering what career might be of interest (considering the only thing he’s sure of after twelve years of school is that he hates school) or an adult who’s reached the traditional age of a mid-life crisis but is already on her 26th job, choosing the right career is not always easy.  People with ADHD are activated by interest rather than importance, and while they can excel in work that uses their strengths, find it impossible to perform in jobs that don’t excite them.  In severe cases, even coping skills and accommodations are insufficient to enable ADHDers to find or follow a successful or satisfying career path.

Typical advice, including, "Try harder.”, "You’ll get used to it.” and "Work’s not supposed to be fun.  You’re just lazy.”, is not helpful.   And unless the person giving the advice is aware of ADHD in adults and how it affects their work performance and career choices, the advice is not likely to improve in quality.

Often a different approach to finding the right career, choosing an alternative career path or creating a custom employment plan would be more helpful than "blaming the victim” for not being like everyone else.  If that sounds like someone you know, where can you get help? 

Many people with ADHD could benefit from services offered by the federal/state Vocational Rehabilitation services program – "VR” for short.  The VR agency covers every geographical area in the United States serving people of working age as well as high school students planning to enter the work force.  There is no income factor in determining eligibility. VR serves people with all physical and mental disabilities and as the individual’s or his /her family’s income is not an eligibility criteria, anyone can apply for services.  However, if you are considering referring a more mature adult for VR, my experience has been that it’ll be a more positive experience if they apply themselves; it can take people some time to get used to the idea that they need or could benefit from assistance.

If the VR counselor determines that your ADHD is causing a significant vocational impairment, you could qualify for help.  Your counselor offers services including realistic vocational counseling (tailored to your strengths, abilities and interests); other possible services include tuition assistance for a college or a vocational technical school, on-the-job training and ADHD coaching.  The VR counselor will assist you in developing your own "employment plan” including the services you and your counselor determine you are likely need to reach your goal.  

The VR services is unique in that it offers a wide variety of services and a very flexible approach to planning a career path with input from both you and your counselor.  You may continue to work together in the plan for six months or even a few years and your file is not closed until you have had three months of stable employment in your target career.

There are some limitations to the program.  Since the program is popular and funding is limited, most state agencies must put many people who qualify on a waiting list.  Like triage in an Emergency Room, the most significantly disabled are served first.  Since almost half of people with an ADHD diagnoses have a comorbid condition such as depression, anxiety or a learning disability, be sure to mention it when applying as that is considered in your favor (one of the few times is might be to your advantage!) too.

You may wonder, "Why should I apply if I’ll just be put on a wait list?  I’m not going to sit around doing nothing while I wait for help.”  You don’t have to wait around, but if you’re on the waiting list, when your turn comes up, if you’ve been trying to make headway but have not progressed as fast as you hoped or expected in your training, employment or job search, you’ll be glad to have the services available at that point.

VR can be very beneficial, especially in cases where all traditional approaches have failed.  For example, in a Florida VR report, we can find the case of Melvin, a young man with ADHD who was floundering in college due to his inability to concentrate.  After discussing career options with his VR counselor, they focused on his passion for drafting.  The VR counselor found an employer who was willing to consider him for an apprentice position.  Since the VR counselor could vouch for Melvin’s potential and pay his salary while he was learning the job, the employer accepted him.  After eleven months of on-the-job training, Melvin was formally hired. 

Melvin later returned to college to continue to work on his AA degree in drafting while he continued to work 35 hours per week for his employer.  Melvin appreciated the on-the-job training option and the VR-recommended accommodations that helped him when he returned to school.  The school assistance included allowed him to have more time to take tests and to take the test in a different room away from distractions.  The employer said he was initially skeptical of taking Melvin on, but at the end he reported he was very satisfied with Melvin’s performance.  He said of Melvin’s enthusiasm and curiosity about the business, "It’s just good to be around people like that.”

To apply for VR assistance, of to learn more about the VR program, type in "vocational rehabilitation” and the name of your state in your favorite search engine on the Web and you easily locate the nearest office.

Frank Potter is a retired vocational rehabilitation counselor from the state of Iowa. He is an ADDA board member and has ADHD.  You can reach him through

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