Some people are quick to point out that ADHD is merely a label for people who think differently and in some ways I would agree with them, but it’s not the label that’s important so much as the understanding, validation, and support that comes with it.
Yet there are people out there who would claim to have ADHD, even without a diagnosis for a multitude of reasons, perhaps they can relate to the symptoms of ADHD? Though I do think every single person has slight ADHD tendances that can be caused by other things for example sugar can send some people hyper or trauma can mean someone is unable to concentrate.
The difficulty is that self-diagnosis without receiving an actual diagnosis is a dangerous road and one that should be avoided. We may have to fight tooth and nail to get the label, but it’s one we need so that we are taken seriously because sadly, ADHD is a condition that is widely misunderstood and heavily stereotyped.
Myself, I’ve seen the danger close up of people trying to claim the label of ADHD without a diagnosis as I remember having quite a negative experience at college with two girls who falsely claimed to have the condition. By this point I’d been switched to the 12-hour Ritalin as opposed to every four hours one, but I absolutely hated it. It used to give me bad heart palpitations and made me over heat. Anyway, I started my college course, level 2 in Childcare and quickly met a lovely bunch of people who became my friends. I earned the nickname of Alice at college because I wore a long flowing gypsy skirt, a headband and was always looking spaced out (like Alice in Wonderland).
There were two girls on my college course who were rather intimidating, who revealed to me that they also had ADHD. While I didn’t really hang out with these girls, it made me feel good to know that I wasn’t alone in my condition. Up until that point I hadn’t met many people with ADHD, certainly nobody who’d gone to college because at that point college in England was optional. One day they were telling me in class how they didn’t take medication for ADHD, which I thought was rather strange. Then after the class my lecturer took me aside and revealed to me that the girls weren’t diagnosed with ADHD, and they were telling lies about it.
I felt really upset over it, not because they didn’t have it and I was once again alone in having the condition, but because I never ever thought anybody would pretend to have ADHD. Why would they? The only thing I saw it as back then was a burden; something that made me different from my peers and something which I had very little control over. I’ve since come to realise that those girls probably had mental health issues and wanted to feel special, but it still doesn’t take away the shock and sadness I felt at the time.
Recently, I spoke with an education professional who has had a background working with children with SEN. She revealed to me that in the past she has known parents who have tried to use ADHD as an excuse for their lack of parenting skills. There is actually a horrible well-known stenotype regarding this, in which people try to say that ADHD is not a real thing just an excuse for bad parenting, where as millions of professionals would not disagree with this. Myself included because my parents were super strict, and it didn’t make my ADHD go away. However, I was intrigued how and why some parents might try to get their child diagnosed with ADHD if they were doing well at school, so I sat down for a five-minute chat with this professional.
Thank you for joining me today. Before we get right in to it, can you just tell me what you think of ADHD and your knowledge on the subject?
It’s a definite condition but it can be an abused condition. Not by the people who’ve got it but by those looking on to it. I have had lots of behaviour training, nurture training and trauma training in the past for my role as a pastoral manager. I know there are different types of ADHD where you have your fiddler but one where the brain’s only all over the place, but you can always tell with an ADHD child because the concentration wouldn’t be there if they had it.
So, you’ve actually known children where parents have been like ‘they’ve got ADHD’ and you’ve known they haven’t?
I have experienced both extremes; people needing a diagnosis and not getting it and people not needing a diagnosis but getting it. I’ve seen both sides of the coin. I’ve seen parents come in demanding a diagnosis for children because they are saying at home their behaviour is…well they are literally calling them naughty. They can’t sit still, lots of reasons why they are up at night, but when they are actually in school they will sit on the carpet and they can listen and they are focused.
Can you think of a specific example where you think a child has been misdiagnosed?
Yes, I can think of one child in particular I can think of was in year 3 and they were an extremely timid child, very quiet and I used to do a lot of observations as pastoral manager. This child you would see sit as quiet as a mouse, watching and concentrating, joining in and all staff would agree on behaviour. Because the parent of this child fought for a diagnosis through the doctor and got him on medication which was very sad to see because I have also seen over the years the greatness of the medication. I mean you do see the child dull but actually some of them really needed it cause you could tell when they were coming off it because they’d be fidgety again, they needed the medication and this child was already withdrawn as it was, To then see him on medication, a lot of the staff were just horrified.
So how do you think that these children are getting diagnosed with ADHD who don’t actually have it? From my understanding, children have to be observed for six months across two different settings; home and school.
I don’t think they did observe that boy I was telling you about in school, I mean I don’t know because I’m not the SENCO, but I liaised with her all the time. I’m sure he got diagnosed just through a parent diagnosis.
Yeah he would have had to have had a diagnosis to be put on medication.
Yeah I mean this was in the borough that we’ve talked about before, where things are not done by the book.
It just reminds me of that blog article I’ve done previously where getting a referral is like a postcode lottery then with what we’re talking about; if you’ve got some parents who are able to refer when they don’t ADHD and then you’ve got some people who can’t get a SENCO to refer their child with ADHD, it just makes the whole process very very difficult.
I think it’s very much education, education, education. The more educated the actual SENCOs are because I’ve experienced some really poor SENCOs are. It’s a lot better now to be fair because there is a lot more training then their used to be.
Do you think as well, now the amount of work SENCOs has to do now because if you think, most SENCOs are having to teach 3 days a week as well as having to chase up all these children.
I used to do some work for the SENCO because they were always too busy.
Exactly, and when you think about now that more children are being diagnosed with additional needs or have undiagnosed additional needs than ever before. It’s like 4 or 5 children if every class and if you think how many classes there are in a primary school. That means easily the SENCO has got another 35 children that they have to be responsible for as well as the class they actually teach.
Yes, it’s very tricky and if you’ve got a very big school. I think if you’ve got a double or triple form/ class school you can have a full time SENCO (this equates to potentially 70 children to support with diagnosed and undiagnosed additional needs). I think that’s to do with there being more money in that school due to funding per pupil, but I’m not entirely sure. However, in smaller schools (with just one class per year), the SENCO is certainly teaching as well as doing that role.
Money! To get more benefits.
Wow, oh ok.
All the schools I have worked in have largely been in disadvantaged areas and deprived areas. I can’t give you any experiences from erm I don’t know what you would call it…(A non-disadvtanged area? ) You are talking parents here who will try and play the system. The lack of education themselves, lack of education on feeding the children. So I was the early help with that parent I was telling you about who tried to get her son diagnosed with ADHD when he wasn’t, but this was the child who was on the parent’s phone all the time and got a huge gambling bill for the parent on their card. This is the lack of parenting skills and boundaries.
Do you think the fact that some parents do take advantage makes it harder for the people who actually do have ADHD to get the right access to referral and support?
Exactly and this is why it’s education, education. It’s education, communication and then when you get the true cases that really need it, then they are being heard and not dismissed. And we won’t have ‘oh it’s just parents playing the system’ because if it’s one system where the same messages go out across the board.
In conclusion, I think it’s clear that for some who don’t actually know what ADHD really is and what it entails, then a label is all they need because they’ve already decided on their own narrative concerning it. However, for many of us who know the full effects of what ADHD is, then it’s more than just a label. It can be the difference between validation, support and happiness or just constantly struggling through life. It’s just a shame that some people try to use the label to make their own conclusions or to use it as an excuse for something else.