ADHD and becoming a pilot
Let me preface this post by saying that I’m not a doctor nor do I have any medical qualifications. So you shouldn’t assume that what I state here is necessarily correct, and if any of it applies to you I recommend you make the appropriate enquiries to see what your own situation is.
Disclaimer out of the way, what I want to put down in writing is this: over the last three or four years I’ve had a number of students and potential students tell me that they have a diagnosis (present or historical) of ADHD. For some it has been a childhood thing that they have grown out of (in their own choice of words) and for some it’s an ongoing situation in their lives.
The reason it is significant as between instructor and student is it complicates the student’s medical certification required to fly solo, and later to qualify for a pilot licence.
If you’ve read my advice on this page you’ll see I suggest new students apply for a category 4 medical certificate at the start of their training, it being the quickest to be issued by Transport Canada, and usually in good time for solo flight. Unfortunately if you’ve ever been diagnosed with ADHD you do not meet the condition of paragraph 1(J) of the category 4 medical declaration and so cannot sign it, and do not qualify for a category 4 medical.
That means you’re going to have to apply for a category 3 (or 1) medical, the issue time for which is still, at the time of writing, at least six months.
A further complication is that – and I have this on the authority of my own Civil Aviation Medical Examiner, whom I asked on behalf of a student – Transport Canada will refuse you for certification entirely if you are presently prescribed any ADHD medication. For all applicants with an ADHD diagnosis TC will require a six month medication-free period, following which you will have to submit reports to the government for an individual determination by the Regional Aviation Medical Officer.
I’m pretty sure that in many cases an ADHD diagnosis isn’t going to be an insuperable barrier to becoming a pilot, but it is going to add a significant period to the length of time it will take you get medically certified. I most strongly suggest you get this sorted out before commencing pilot training with any regularity, as otherwise your training is going to hit a brick wall, and that will be sooner rather than later.
Another factor for anyone in this position to consider is this: I’ve heard from some students with ADHD that they feel they learn and absorb information in a way that doesn’t match most other people. Getting a PPL (or a higher licence) involves a lot of traditional “book” learning, all of the materials for which are designed for best accessibility by the average learner. Then there are the written licensing exams, which are also designed to test the average person.
You yourself will know how you learn (and test) best, and if that isn’t by reading text books, watching videos and classroom presentations, making notes, and rote learning in your own time, then you owe it to yourself to come up with an individual strategy that will help you match your peers in mastering the material you need to know to be a successful pilot. If you’re my student then I will help with whatever means I can, but if your goal is a PPL. then there is no alternative to taking and passing the PSTAR, ROC-A and PPAER exams as you move through the training.
I’ve just been asked if Transport Canada is required to make accommodations for students with ADHD under, for example, the Accessible Canada Act. In most cases any condition for which an accommodation would be necessary would likely already be disqualifying for pilot licensing: I doubt that Transport Canada would consider it had a duty to provide examination materials in a format suitable for visually impaired candidates, on the basis that anyone who needed that couldn’t have already met the vision standards required of a pilot. But for this scenario I’m certainly not qualified to judge. So if you do feel you qualify for an accommodation, and you contact TC about it, please let me know the result so I can advise others in a similar situation.