Living with ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural condition characterised by inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. ADHD often runs in families and the symptoms tend to be noticed when children start school, usually due to a change in routine. Most individuals with ADHD receive a diagnosis when they are between the ages of 6- and 12-years old. Today, Picaroon Kim talks with 22-year-old Jack about his experience of living with ADHD.
Kim: Hi Jack, thank you for speaking with me today about your experiences with ADHD. Can you tell me how old you were when you received a diagnosis of ADHD?
Jack: I received my diagnosis at the age of 15, just before my GCSEs began.
Kim: Gosh, that must have been hard. Can you explain the diagnostic process?
Jack: Having already been diagnosed with dyslexia, I was attending a learning support class when my teacher asked if I had been tested for ADHD or ADD. She referred my mother to the Priory Hospital in Ticehurst (in the South-East of England), a private mental health clinic where I saw a specialist in child behavioural issues. Over an afternoon, he quizzed me and my mother (separately then together) about my school performance, attendance rate, attentiveness and what I knew about ADHD/ADD. Within the same day (I believe) he suggested I had ADHD tendencies, (or more specifically ADD). Before being put on any medication, I had a follow-up appointment a week later to confirm the diagnosis. I was then officially diagnosed with ADD.
Kim: That sounds really thorough and it’s interesting that the specialist interviewed you and your mother individually as well as together. Were you given medication for your ADHD?
Jack: Yes. At first, I was put on a low dose of Equasym (10mg) used to treat ADHD/ADD. After a month on Equasym, I was moved to Concerta and remained on that for the rest of my school career.
Kim: The media is awash with unpleasant stories about ADHD medication. Can I ask how the medication made you feel?
Jack: Sure. I’ve heard a number of distressing stories of people on ADHD medication, however, for me, the medication had minimal side effects. It did make me far more agreeable for teachers; I would fidget less, talk less and hardly gaze out of the window. It was as if my mind was finally focused, I didn’t have to deal with the millions of thoughts and distractions running through my head. These thoughts and distractions were still there, however, but it was like they were ordered - I could control when I chose to get distracted. It was by no means a wonder-drug that transformed me overnight, but it did give me greater agency over the times I chose when to work. However, I did notice I was quieter on the medication and not as creative perhaps. My appetite dipped significantly, although I still ate (I know this wasn’t the same for fellow students on the same medication, particularly the girls in my class). Perhaps the biggest side-effect was the effect on my sleep. I have never really been able to sleep properly so maybe I’m slightly biased, however, I found it extremely difficult and sometimes even impossible to get to sleep on occasions.
Kim: That’s fascinating! Thank you for sharing in so much detail. It seems that, whilst the medication helped order your thoughts it also helped the teachers in having a focused classroom. Did you receive any additional help from the school to access the learning?
Jack: For my exams, I received a laptop concession and 25% extra time.
Kim: I’m sure that made a difference! Does your ADHD affect your day-to-day life?
Jack: Though I try not to let it define me, ADHD still affects my adult life. I often zone-in and out of conversations, I forget a great deal of basic things (such as keys, locking doors or forgetting to email people back) because I’m thinking about five different things at a time. And although I’m trying to manage it, it’s something I still struggle with. I try and write down the most important things each day and whenever I’m organising work etc. I have found by writing things down in lists, my thoughts are far clearer.
Kim: Yes, many people find lists a good tool to reduce the stress of forgetting things. We’ve spoken a lot about your school experiences, and I’m wondering whether ADHD affected your time at university? And if so, how?
Jack: I continued taking my medication throughout university. The focus afforded to me by the medication kept me going. There were times when I didn’t take the medication prior to lectures, and found I was absolutely fine focusing when I enjoyed the subject content, but the ones I didn’t like became almost impossible to focus on, no matter how hard I tried.
Kim: It seems as though the medication has helped you experience clear-focused thinking, but you’ve worked very hard to channel your thoughts and progress from school to university. Is there anything you’d like teachers to know to help them support children with ADHD?
Jack: I think just try and be patient with them. I know how angry I got when I couldn’t sit down and focus, and I’m sure I projected that frustration onto teachers. But since that one teacher referred me to the specialist, my life hasn’t been the same since. In a positive way, that is!
Kim: Jack, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with living with ADHD.
How to spot the signs of ADHD in the classroom…
As a busy teacher, it can be difficult to tease out the subtleties of ADHD in your pupils, some cases are more obvious than others and pupils with ADHD often mask their challenges. Many schools now rely on objective tests like QbCheck, that measure core symptoms of ADHD; hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. By comparing a pupil’s performance against an age and gender-matched group of children with and without ADHD, QbCheck enables special educational needs teachers (SENCOs) to make informed decisions about the presence of ADHD and strengthen their referrals to specialists. Learn more about QbCheck here.
To find out more about ADHD, visit the NHS website.
The ADHD Foundation works with individuals, families, doctors, teachers and other agencies to support those affected by ADHD.
Written by: Holly Pigache