The mother of a young woman who was told by a teacher that her ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) was a “disease” wants to see more educational supports put in place for pupils with the condition.
Kate Gaynor, from Enniskillen, also wants health authorities to avoid young people becoming “lost in transition” from child and adolescent mental health services to adult services.
Her daughter Sarah was diagnosed with ADD when she was 14 years old.
School became a negative experience for Sarah, who was regularly sent to detention or to the front of the class for forgetting to do her homework or becoming distracted – two common symptoms of ADD.
ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are neurological conditions that are demonstrated by high levels of impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention. The condition is generally treated with a combination of medication and therapy.
Sarah was offered two hours per week of support from an external professional who aimed to help her better organise her studies. She was reluctant to attend counselling at school for fear she would be seen as ‘different’. The same reluctance applied to taking medication to treat the condition, however, she took it for eight months in the lead up to her GCSE exams, after which she left school.
When she was 16, Sarah’s health professional said she could no longer access her medication through her GP and it would have to be accessed through adult services when she was 18. During the two intervening years, the teenager attempted to undertake courses in Media and Art at Fermanagh College but could not maintain focus. She also went through a period of unemployment.
Now, aged 21, she has a job and is “trying to make her own way” without medication. She hopes to travel in the future. “Sarah’s life could have been so different,” Mrs. Gaynor stated. “Sarah was well above average in school aptitude tests and had a high reading age. She got an A in the Eleven Plus. School reports would just state: ‘Sarah has potential but needs to pay more attention.’”
Her primary school principal thought Sarah may have ADHD but no assessment was made, so, when she went to her new grammar school she was sent to an educational psychologist in Year eight. She was officially diagnosed in Year 10. She attended a Paediatrician at the Erne and took the medication, which improved her concentration, in the eight months leading up to and including her GCSE exams.
Mrs. Gaynor believes: “If teachers had a better understanding that Sarah’s lack of focus and organisation was due to ADD, it may have had a different impact on her.”
Sarah told The Impartial Reporter: “My school years were an isolating time. It was a mixture of dealing with my diagnosis and the stigma attached to it, which became very stressful. One teacher told me ADD was a disease and that was hurtful, extra support through wellbeing classes is something that would have been beneficial. My energetic personality was pushed aside and my confidence knocked so many times – it was hard. A lot of teachers concentrated on behaviour issues rather than the problems I was having, so more positivity would have helped.”
Calling for the transition from child to adult mental health services to be more efficient, Mrs. Gaynor said that when Sarah turned 16 and no longer had access to medication through her GP, “it seemed that suddenly the child doesn’t have ADD anymore.”
“I was shocked,” she recounted. “It wasn’t until a year later that Sarah and I started attending the Adult ADHD group in Enniskillen and learned that there are other families out there going through the same thing.”
Two years ago, she contacted her MLA who arranged a meeting with the Director and Assistant Director of Mental Health Services for the Western Trust.
“The move to adult services was very difficult and slow and there has been no real support for ADD. I feel they could have offered other supports such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and other therapies, rather than just counselling,” Mrs. Gaynor said.
Commenting on Sarah’s story, Director of Enniskillen-based support group, Adult ADHD NI, Emma Weaver said: “Sarah got lost in transition due to a lack of throughput in services. The family are in limbo. The Western Trust did train 30 people a few years ago in assessing ADHD but we have not had any out-working from that.”