Recognising ADHD in school

Are psychologists in the field doing enough to raise awareness?

27 July 2015

Underperformance at school is an increasingly prevalent issue for young people with ADHD. Why? I believe teachers are not equipped to distinguish ADHD from mere ‘laziness’ or ‘bad behaviour’.

I was diagnosed at the age of 17. I always thought that concentration, retention and politeness were everyday challenges for everyone – not just me. As a child with undiagnosed ADHD, you are either put in the bottom classes at school, led to believe that you are ‘educationally challenged’, or you are put in the top classes and feel just as bad because you cannot keep up with your peers. As the unpleasant comments become common, you begin to think that maybe you are stupid, maybe it is your fault or maybe you are lazy. No matter how hard I thought I was trying, I was never good enough.

My diagnosis of ADHD was a huge relief. The ‘fog’ was lifted and things made more sense. I started medication, and the difference in my behavioural stability was incredible. Yet I would have to ‘defend’ my condition to people such as the ‘matron’ who handled all of my medical matters at boarding school.  

Schools must take the appropriate measures to help and recognise ADHD, because it is not rare, and a worrying number of children are left to feel alone and misunderstood. Numerous e-mails from school were sent to my parents, complaining that I could not retain information or focus, and that I was disorganised, rude and outspoken. Everything pointed towards a child struggling with ADHD: my school just never made the link because no-one had ever taught them how to help/recognise a child with ADHD.

Once at senior school, teachers place even more importance on a child being more mature, self-motivated, respectful; all the things that I (and many other undiagnosed teenagers) had not yet developed, due to being on average three to five years behind my peers in most things. I have been told that if I had been diagnosed at the age of seven, when my problems started, I could have gone to Oxford University. My reality now is struggling to meet grades that are much lower than those I would have needed to attend Oxford. That feels painful. Recognition of ADHD at an early age is of the utmost importance for children like me, and awareness must be raised.

If you are an ADHD expert in psychology, do you feel that you are doing enough to raise awareness for the condition? Do you believe that teachers are able enough to recognise struggling children in the school environment, or do they need to hear from you? Change will only come if experts bring attention to the issue. No one is going to listen to a teenager!

Ellie van Staden