The same ADHD symptoms that may have made school more challenging for you could also cause problems once you enter the workforce. Trouble with attention, memory, planning, and organization can make it harder for you to land the job you want – and keep it. But that’s where vocational rehabilitation comes in.
You don't need to give up on your dream of becoming a professional writer, investment banker, or whatever else it is you want to do. Career help is available for people with ADHD and other learning disabilities. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Vocational Rehabilitation?
Vocational rehabilitation is a government-sponsored program designed for people who have physical and mental disabilities like ADHD. It can help you find a job that matches your skills and interests, often at little to no cost to you. Once you do find a job, this program will arm you with the skills you'll need to succeed and stay employed.
By guiding you through the job search process, a vocational rehab program can help you avoid some of the anxiety that often comes with finding and starting a new job. And it can help you land in a career where you find both satisfaction and success.
How Can ADHD Affect My Career?
ADHD affects many of the skills you need to succeed at work. The condition makes it harder to:
- Stay focused
- Get organized
- Learn new things
- Follow instructions
- Finish tasks and meet deadlines
You may not realize that these areas are affected unless someone tells you. ADHD also affects your ability to get along with other people, such as your co-workers. Good interpersonal skills are important when you work as part of a team.
Research finds that people with ADHD are more likely to be unemployed and to earn less money than those without ADHD. And even if you do land a job, your symptoms could make it harder for you to meet your employer's expectations and move up in the company.
How Does Vocational Rehabilitation Work?
A vocational rehab program can help with many parts of the job search and hiring process. It offers services like career counseling, psychological testing, and on-the-job training. The program itself is different for everybody because it's personalized to your unique talents and job search needs.
To start, you'll meet with a vocational counselor who will help you put together an Individual Plan for Employment (IPE). This plan is similar to the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) you might have had at school. The IPE describes your skills and strengths and how your ADHD gets in the way of you finding a job.
Together, you and your counselor will set a career goal. Then your counselor will help you figure out which services you need to achieve that goal.
Vocational rehab includes some or all of these services:
Diagnostic tests. Even if you've gone through the full battery of ADHD tests already, the counselor may ask you to take some of them again. Psychological and psychoeducational tests confirm that you have ADHD, show your counselor how ADHD affects your ability to work, and identify what services you'll need on the job.
Vocational tests. Tests of your skills, abilities, experience, and interests help your counselor find the job that fits you best. The counselor will match you to a job based on the results of these tests, as well as your interests, where you want to work, and the type of transportation you have (car, city bus, etc.).
Training. Once you have a job in mind, you may need more experience to get it. Vocational rehab can help if you need a degree from a college or trade school, or the job requires other kinds of training.
Placement assistance. Your counselor will give you advice to help you land a job, including how to fill out the job application and the best way to respond to questions during an interview. Your counselor can also put you in touch with companies that are hiring.
Tools and assistive technology. The program can help you pay for any tools and equipment you'll need for the job. For example, you might need a uniform to work in the medical field, or a toolbox to work in the construction industry. There are also devices to help you manage ADHD symptoms, including apps to remind you of important meetings and ones that translate text to speech so you don't have to type as much.
Your counselor will be there for you at every stage of the program. They'll help you settle into your job, offer advice once you start, and check your progress for a few months post-hire. Vocational rehab usually ends about 90 days after you get a job.
How Do I Qualify for Vocational Rehab?
ADHD counts as a disability, but that doesn't mean you'll definitely qualify for vocational rehab. What matters more to the vocational rehab agency is how much ADHD affects your ability to work.
A counselor at the agency will do an evaluation to see if you qualify for rehab services. You're more likely to qualify if you already get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
To see if vocational rehab would be good for you, the counselor might:
- Test your skills
- Go over your work history
- Watch you in a job situation
- Ask questions about your skills and how well you performed in past jobs
- Interview your family members, teachers, and bosses
You'll usually get an answer within 2 months after you turn in your application. Keep in mind that you may have to wait for services if your symptoms are mild. The law requires vocational rehab programs to work with people who have the most severe disabilities first.
How Much Does It Cost?
It's free to apply for vocational rehab. The evaluation process is also free. If you do qualify, you won't get billed for any diagnostic tests, counseling, or job placement services. Social Security pays your local agency to cover these costs.
Other services may not be fully covered. How much you have to spend for vocational services depends on your ability to pay. Your counselor will ask about your income and expenses to figure out how much, if anything, you'll need to contribute to the cost.
How Do I Find a Vocational Rehab Program?
To find a program, start by reaching out to your state's vocational rehab agency. Every state has one.
You can also contact an American Job Center (AJC). The U.S. Department of Labor funds the AJC, and there are about 2,400 of them nationwide.
If you're a military veteran, Veterans ReEmployment offers help finding a job and training for it.