How to Ask for Accommodations at Work (Without Coming Out About ADHD!)

The workplace has become a very challenging place, even for neurotypicals. Maybe it’s always been this way, but with the speed things happen today, increased expectations from bosses and clients and world-wide competition for your job, it certainly seems more stressful than ever. If you have adult ADHD, you add a big bunch of extra challenges to the mix:

  • Inattentiveness and lack of focus can lead to missed details, and make it challenging to accomplish work that requires concentration at the best of times,
  • Forgetfulness has very likely already led to more than one missed commitment and the resulting loss of credibility,
  • Disorganization has you feeling overwhelmed, distracted and jumping from one task to another,
  • Procrastination leads to last-minute, gun-to-the-head, high-stress production to meet deadlines, causing you great stress,
  • Or you play the hero, pitching in to put out other people’s fires while your own work goes undone,
  • and more.

These extra challenges make the workplace a veritable minefield of reprimands and disappointments, but what can you do about it?

The obvious answer, and the one most experts provide, is that “You should ask for accommodations at work.” That sounds simple, doesn’t it? Accommodations have been proven to help, and it’s likely they would help you, but there’s a little problem. How can you ask for and get accommodations unless you disclose your ADHD at work? And as we know, there are risks associated with that.

So what can you do? There are ways of asking for accommodations without disclosing your ADHD. If you don’t feel it’s safe to disclose your ADHD at work, or if you’d just rather not, you’ll be happy to hear there’s a “formula” that will help you to ask for “accommodations” without outing yourself. Use this model “script” to write down what you’d like to say, adapted to your specific circumstances, practice and use again and again with success:

Step 1. Describe your specific struggle and the circumstances surrounding it.

Step 2. Describe a possible solution you’ve thought of.

Step 3. Describe the benefits your boss, your co-workers and you will get from implementing this solution. WIIFY & M (What’s in it for you and me.)

For example, if there’s too much noise in your cubicle farm and you feel you’d be able do a better job preparing a particularly challenging report that you need to do regularly if you had a quiet place to do your work, you would apply the three steps as follows:

Step 1. Describe your specific struggle: Say something like, “I really struggle to stay focused on the XYZ reports because of all the noise in office.”

Step 2. Describe a possible solution: “I’ve thought of one possible solution: when I work on these reports, would it be possible for me to use a closed office, conference room, or to work from home?”

Step 3. Describe the benefits: “This will help me get it done much faster, so Joe can get started on his part sooner, and I’ll complete it with fewer or no mistakes so it’ll reduce the time you spend double-checking everything.”

You’ve done a good job of selling the solution by pointing out the benefits to all, it doesn’t sound like you’re whining… and no one mentioned ADHD!

So the formula is:



“Job accommodation means modifying a job, job site, or the way in which a job is done so that the person with a disability can have equal access to all aspects of work.”1

Job accommodations may also include the use of tools such as headsets, assistive technology, training, job restructuring, job reassignments or even an administrative assistant.

One of my clients, an administrative assistant, had to review all of her supervisors’ direct reports’ expense reports once a week. This was tedious work that required a lot of focus and some quiet uninterrupted time. The challenge she faced was that she was expected to answer the phone at the same time, which led to numerous mistakes. Here’s the script she used:

Step 1. I’m really struggling with reviewing your direct reports’ expenses. The challenge is that each time I answer the phone, I lose track of where I was before the call. This leads to missing details or making mistakes.

Step 2. I know that I need two or three hours of uninterrupted time when I am most focused to ensure I don’t make these mistakes. I’ve found a possible solution: Could Carol take my phone calls on Tuesday mornings so that I can do the work uninterrupted?

Step 3. With this solution in place, I’ll be able to dramatically reduce mistakes and make sure all the receipts are there and accounted for. This will prevent you from getting calls from the Accounting Department or the company paying out more than allowed by receipts. With fewer interruptions, I may even be able to get it done faster.

Her supervisor thought it was an excellent idea and allowed the phone call transfers so my client was able to complete this work without mistakes. And they all lived happily ever after!

6 thoughts on “How to Ask for Accommodations at Work (Without Coming Out About ADHD!)”

  1. Linda, great article. So many people would benefit from an accommodation for a specific type of work task, but hesitate to ask out of fear they will either appear less than competent or be labeled as having ADHD, LD, etc.

    What they don’t realize is that self-awareness, coupled with strategic interventions, is a strength. Most employers appreciate someone who recognizes that something isn’t working and brings it to their attention, along with a possible solution. The focus is on how to do the task better, not “I have a problem and can’t do my job well.” The critical difference is coupling the challenge with a workable solution – your WIIFA.

    The problem isn’t having ADHD, it is how accomplishing a specific task is difficult for you (yes, because you have ADHD, but that’s the explanation, not an excuse). So focus on possible solutions – what can be done to make it easier to accomplish the task? Don’t be afraid to ask for it, or feel ‘less than’ because you work better with that accommodation. Rather, be proud of how you figured out how to do a better job!

    -Susan Lasky, Productivity/ADHD Coach & Professional Organizer

  2. That sounds great. What do you do when they hate you so much and ignore your request for accommodations even after your union tells them they need to stop harassing you, but instead just terrorize you endlessly.

    1. That is a real challenge. I would change companies. I know it sounds trite in these times, but companies that don’t support their employees to work at their best, are not worth working for. Start quietly looking for a job. You can if you have the financial capability, amass proof of harassment – email, recorded discussions, witnessed intimidation… and sue them. Good luck! You deserve to work for a company where you get to shine.

  3. My employer is good at times, but I wanted to move into a position outside of what I am doing. I used examples of how this could help me move into other positions at work that I normally wouldn’t be able to do. They just looked at me with a blank stare. It was specifically voice to text recognition software that is fairly common for dictation. Felt this would help with emails, and other responses. After 3 times of asking I gave up and quit asking. The first time I referenced my disabilities in passing I was told to keep my private life to myself and scolded by a manager. All around me I hear people talk about their temporary head colds, flues, “got drunk on the weekend and feel horrible.” The lessons I have learned is equality doesn’t exist for me. I wished I could just go on disability some days just so I could remove myself almost completely from the outside world.

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