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Folks,

I have ADHD, and I'm considering a career in academia after I get my PhD. I am about to defend my dissertation proposal, and I expect to defend by May 2020.

Part of the standard package of accommodations for students with ADHD is extended time on tests, but I have never needed this. I can complete tests fine. And it won't be relevant when I'm a faculty member, anyway. I'm more interested in this: for those of you who have ADHD or autism who are academics, what specific workplace accommodations have you requested? These can include formal or informal accommodations. Hearsay (i.e. I know a colleague with ADHD, and she has XYZ) is fine. Autism included as this condition also affects executive function, albeit in different ways.

Inattention and making mistakes while creating Excel tables has been a problem before. In an academic job, I would work with my colleagues and any students I'm supervising to check any tables I'm putting out - not to mention I'd probably be the one checking any tables my students put out. I've been able to automate a lot of the table writing through statistical software, which really cuts down on cut and paste errors. If I were in the private sector, one of my accommodations would need to be something along the lines of needing to work with others to check my work.

Alternatively, per @Elizabeth Henning's question, I'd also be interested to know if anyone was offered accommodations that aren't actually helpful, and what accommodations those are. Perhaps those answers will be informative to the community.

The site is warning me that the question I'm asking appears subjective and is likely to be closed. A lot of the questions here involve some degree of subjectivity, so I find the rule to be very ill-defined. But, so I don't get the question closed, please limit this to discrete workplace accommodations that you have received, or that you have heard of others receiving.

Some related posts on StackExchange that don't address this specific question:

What specific techniques can help someone facing mental health problems (depression, anxiety, ADHD) have a productive academic career?

What type of workplace accommodations are departments required to make for a mentally unhealthy faculty member?

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    I don't have an answer, but I wonder if it is possible for generalized solutions to actually work. Or is it better for a person to work out some individualized solutions depending on their specific needs. In other words, would a given solution that works for you be likely to work as well for another. Perhaps you can give some insight into that. There are other sorts of conditions that require individual accommodation, of course - blindness, deafness, etc. Some are rare, some not. But some require a case-by-case approach I suspect. – Buffy Feb 21 at 13:56
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    I think this is a very interesting question in an academic context, because academics generally have so much more control over their working lives and processes than is typical in many companies (most never need to deal with a time clock, just showing up to teach class on time, no daily meetings with a supervisor), and most of the formal reporting/evaluation happens in writing and with generally long (month or year) advanced warning, etc. So I'm not sure what an option could even be that would be helpful - but would really like to find out! Its an important topic. – BrianH Feb 21 at 14:10
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    The one professor I knew who had ADHD did not receive any accommodations and he was very successful. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 21 at 23:02
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Your comment kind of proves my point. – Elizabeth Henning Feb 21 at 23:19
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    @AnonymousPhysicist That seems prudent... but then why post the anecdote? – Geoffrey Brent Feb 22 at 2:40
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This is a very difficult question to answer because people with ADHD/LD aren't treated very well in higher education in general, so (anecdotally) they seem to be extremely underrepresented among both academics and grad students. Even though ADHD/LD people make up at least 10% of the population, there doesn't seem to be much interest in diversifying faculty to include them, or in consulting with them about how to help better serve the needs of ADHD/LD students.

Plus, there's a worse problem of fundamentally misunderstanding ADHD/LD and thinking that a few minor changes is the same thing as "accommodation." You often hear ADHD/LD described as having "attention problems" or "learning problems" (as someone on ASE did here). But in the case of ADHD, the underlying issue is actually difficulty regulating attention, which results in differences in how attention gets used. And in the case of LD, the underlying issue is difficulty processing certain information formats. In both cases, there is a significant mismatch between natural strengths/preferences and the way neurotypicals are expected to do things. (I am not autistic, but I have heard that ASD people are in a similar situation.)

The standard accommodations you mention are the product of what I call the "test in the envelope" mentality, which is as far as 99% of academics get in their understanding of ADHD/LD. It's a horrible accommodation because it sends the message that having ADHD/LD basically means that you're just like everyone else but slower. Needless to say, that creates a lot of false negative assumptions and stereotypes, especially in a career where being smart is prized above everything else.

In other words, in the current academic environment of widespread ignorance and unwillingness to really deal with people with learning/attention differences, ADHD/LD accommodations are nearly always reactive rather than inclusive: the person with ADHD/LD has something "wrong" with them, so they posture as "needing help," for example by asking someone else check their Excel tables. This raises the question of whether it's necessary to work with Excel tables at all if it's a task that you know is going to be problematic. Is there some completely different approach that is better suited to your learning differences? What should universities be doing to provide an inclusive environment for that, rather than going small potatoes with Excel proofreading?

So at this rather benighted point in time, it might be more on-point to reframe your question as: What are examples of nonessential expectations that are typical in academia, but which put ADHD/LD people at an unfair disadvantage?

  • This is a good point, but I'm an eternal optimist, so I will not reframe the question entirely. In my case, I can't avoid having to deal with a bunch of information that is vulnerable to editing errors. Automating things as much as I can and offloading a lot of the data manipulation to people who are skilled at it and who don't have executive dysfunction (or who have ameliorated said dysfunction) is what I do. – Weiwen Ng Feb 21 at 22:01
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    You should post this as a question instead of posting it as an answer. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 21 at 22:53
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    @ElizabethHenning Can you elaborate on how universities can structurally be more accommodating to non-neurotypical folks? – Weiwen Ng Feb 22 at 17:32
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    @WeiwenNg I don't have time right now to start listing all the specific things that I have personally struggled with or witnessed, but I can say that the zeroth step needs to be for all university faculty to recognize that (1) some people really are different and (2) dealing with them can't just be outsourced to Disability Services. And faculty (at least as far as I know in the US) don't even have access to any sort of formal support services, so they're left to hash it out with their department on their own. Which means that success depends on the department being enlightened about this. – Elizabeth Henning Feb 22 at 17:53
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    I'm actually thinking about writing a blog about this. Maybe. – Elizabeth Henning Feb 22 at 18:10

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