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Has anyone here gone through the process of becoming a pilot with ADHD?
Answered By AOPA
I was undiagnosed and off of medication for 17 years, and know I can complete any task thrown at me, but I got diagnosed last August and have been on meds since. They really help with school and I think I am going to get through school while on them then take a gap year to go off of my medication and get the testing done so I can get my certificate and begin the process of becoming a commercial pilot (my life long dream). Has anyone here gone through this process? or does anyone have any other ideas instead of taking a gap year?
3 Replies
Jonah, the FAA views ADHD as a mental health condition, and as such, is pretty conservative about issuing medical certificates to applicants with that history.  A history of ADHD, and/or use of ADHD meds, or a visit to health professional for any treatment, diagnosis, or discussion about ADHD that is reported on the medical application will always require, at an absolute minimum, a detailed report from the treating provider about the history of the condition, when it was diagnosed or treated, how it was treated, and how long ago medications were discontinued.  ALL meds to treat ADHD are disqualifying, period.
Most likely though, the FAA will require a much more comprehensive evaluation including neurocognitive assessment made up of a compliment of testing that specifically identifies any abnormal cognitive behavior that could be detrimental to safe operation of aircraft.  
The testing will be conducted by a clinical psychologist or neuropsychologist and one of the required tests is called Cogscreen AE (Aeromedical Edition) that can be administered only by a psychologist who is licensed and authorized to conduct that particular test that is part of the evaluation battery of tests.  

ADHD is an elusive condition that often is not ever diagnosed but is just treated with meds based on symptoms alone.  Because it is difficult to determine whether it is a genuine diagnosis or what I just call a "delayed developmental process," the FAA feels it is necessary to fully evaluate the medical condition based on history and clinical findings identified in the neurocognitive evaluation.

 I don't know how many people actually apply for a medical certificate who report the condition and/or medications usage, nor do I know exactly how many people are granted certification after undergoing the evaluations.  However, the FAA evaluates each applicant on the merits of the individual case history.  We occasionally hear from members who we have worked with who were granted a special issuance authorization with the history of ADHD, but frankly, that number is fairly small.  I'm not saying that relates to the actual number of applicants who apply compared to how many are actually granted certification.  I'm just saying that the numbers we see through our office are relatively small.
Unfortunately, the testing required by the FAA is not inexpensive and can be several thousand dollars because of the time required by the psychologists to administer, score, and write up a detailed report of the findings of the evaluation.  The good news is that if you are asked to provide the evaluation and the results are not considered "aeromedically significant," the likelihood for certification is favorable.
The FAA recently published an article in their Safety Briefing by Dr. Leo Hattrup that provides some background on how and why the FAA handles ADHD the way they do.  Hopefully that will be helpful to you.  If you have further questions, jump back on here or call us at 800 872 2672.  The link to the article is

Gary at AOPA
1218 Posts
Dr. Bruce Chien (who comes around here occasionally) is an AME who specializes in difficult medical certifications, and is one of the nation's top experts in that area.  You should contact him via his website for advice.

That said, his past posts on the issue of ADHD suggest that while it is theoretically possible for someone who was once diagnosed as ADHD to obtain medical certification, it is very difficult and very expensive (many thousands of dollars).  Essentially, it requires that an FAA-designated Human Interventional Motivation Study (HIMS) psychiatrist administer a comprehensive examination and determine that your ADHD diagnosis was in error or that you are truly no longer ADHD.  In addition, you must be off all psychoactive medication for several months (can't remember if it's three or six) when that determination is made.
ADD is not a yes you have it, not you don't situation. IT is a spectrum of how human cognition occurs.  So the FAA's evaluation battery (by Neuropscyhologists known to the FAA) really centers around "can you outscore the bottom 15th percentile" of known age matched pilots. Basically, if you can do that whatever you REALLY have is probably not a danger.

Also know however, that if you can pass that, with a negative urine for stimulants, you are swearing off the medication forever.  If you are ever found with the stuff in your system or an Rx is discovered, you forfeit ALL certificates. So choose wisely.  If you find the stimulants useful in your daily life, this may not be a good decision.

And no, you cannot test  "ON THE MEDS".  FAA cannot control whether the airman remembered to take his stimulant, on the day of the accident.