A closer look at ADHD through real-life experience

The number of people in the UK waiting for an assessment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is reported to have increased dramatically in recent years, with wait times as long as seven years in some cases.
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Referrals to ADHD specialists rose by 226% between 2017 and 2022. #ADHD is now the seventh highest trending hashtag on TikTok, and medication to treat the condition is currently in very short supply across the world. As ADHD Awareness Month draws to a close, it is important to continue the discussion and further global awareness around the signs to look for in yourself and others, and how to get the best out of children who have received a diagnosis.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or a combination of all three. Individuals with ADHD may struggle to resist impulses, follow directions, complete tasks, and remain still, among many other signs and symptoms. Usually diagnosed in childhood, in order for a person to be diagnosed as an adult, ADHD has to have presented in some form before the age of 12.

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As a condition primarily diagnosed in children, something which is rarely talked about is how ADHD can present itself in adult life. Here, Becky Ward, Education Experience Specialist at Tutor Doctor and qualified SEN tutor, provides a detailed look into life as an adult with ADHD and a mother to a 10-year-old child who has received a diagnosis. She reflects on the regret she felt for not being diagnosed sooner, almost mourning the life that could have been had she identified the condition in herself at a younger age.

Becky Ward, Education Experience Specialist at Tutor DoctorBecky Ward, Education Experience Specialist at Tutor Doctor
Becky Ward, Education Experience Specialist at Tutor Doctor

As a gifted child in the ‘90s, Becky was expected to absolutely fly academically. Top of her class and liked by her teachers, it was easy to believe that she did not suffer from any neurodivergences, let alone ADHD, a disorder which at the time was still only really attributed to boys who were hyper, bouncing off the walls and struggling academically. Though she was – and says she still is – excessively chatty, she didn’t present with any of the symptoms typically associated with ADHD in that era; she wasn’t bouncing off the walls, her grades stayed consistently high, she made friends easily, and didn’t struggle sitting still. She was rarely in trouble, other than potentially distracting her friends by chatting a little too much.

Without the structure of school, higher education presented challenges for Becky, which made her feel isolated and alone. Thinking it was unique to her and she was just lazier than her peers, Becky found herself constantly leaving things to the last possible minute. She was having to consistently play catch-up with coursework, leading to an inordinate number of late nights, last-minute essays and a near-constant state of overwhelming anxiety.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented Becky with even more challenges, particularly as she found herself struggling to juggle multiple balls at once; her job, family life, and her children’s online school learning. She also found herself having to support her youngest son, who had been diagnosed with ADHD in 2019, as he found this period especially difficult to deal with. Becky was trying to wear multiple hats at a time when she was already overloaded and burnt out, and each hat added more pressure than before.

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It was in 2019 when Becky started to recognise early indicators of ADHD in her youngest son, in the form of lack of focus, trouble relaxing, a delay in developing social skills to the same level as his peers, and hyper-focusing on things he was interested in. When she took him to see the doctor he confirmed the diagnosis, but also informed Becky that the likelihood is that either her or her husband would have undiagnosed ADHD as the condition is often hereditary. She took the doctor’s advice and went to see a doctor herself, who asked all of the right questions and finally gave her a diagnosis for the unseen condition which had affected every aspect of her life until then.

A common misconception about ADHD is that it presents as a deficit, as the name would suggest, and causes only hyperactivity and a deficit in attention. Researchers and experts believe there’s a strong connection between executive function and ADHD, which then presents challenges with regulating attention and energy. This can then cause issues relating to memory, concentration, time management, sleep, impulse control, emotions and spatial awareness. While diagnosing children with ADHD can be challenging, it's imperative to get an accurate diagnosis. This also applies to adults, many of whom are undiagnosed – it is estimated that only 3-4% of adults with ADHD in the UK have a diagnosis.3

While there are many challenges people with ADHD inevitably face, mainly due to the world being built around neurotypical people, there are also many things to celebrate. People with ADHD are generally more creative; they have a keen eye for detail, are very good problem solvers, and have the ability to hyperfocus on subjects they’re interested in, meaning their long-term memory is often exceptional.

When it comes to education, often children with ADHD are left behind or discounted for being slower, less focused or simply not interested in education. A fantastic way to bridge this learning gap between children and their peers is to employ a tutor for one-to-one support as it allows personalised lessons, focused specifically on the child and free from classroom distractions.

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Below are some invaluable tips for parents educating a child with ADHD

  1. Regular breaks: Ensure your child takes regular breaks to help manage their attention and energy levels.
  2. Chunking: Break large tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces to reduce overwhelm.
  3. Give choice: Allow your child to have some control and ownership over their learning by offering choices.
  4. Personalise expectations: Understand that each child with ADHD is unique, so tailor your expectations accordingly.
  5. Positive reinforcement: Acknowledge and celebrate their positive efforts to boost their confidence.
  6. End on a High Note: Finish learning sessions with a positive and encouraging experience.

ADHD Awareness Month serves as a crucial reminder of the significance of understanding and supporting individuals with ADHD. Becky's personal journey highlights the importance of early diagnosis and intervention, while also shedding light on the unique strengths that individuals with ADHD bring to the table. By fostering a supportive environment and providing the right tools and resources, we can help those with ADHD thrive and reach their full potential.

For more information on ADHD or to find out how a tutor could help increase the quality of your child's education, visit www.tutordoctor.co.uk.

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