An international study published yesterday in The Lancet warns that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children is going wildly under-diagnosed and under-treated in the UK. After reviewing data from 24,000 patients, 14,000 of whom were children, researchers found that while five per cent of children in the UK have ADHD, only one in 10 are actually treated.
ADHD without treatment or diagnosis can have life changing effects. It did for me. At the tender age of 42, I am currently going through the process of diagnosis.
At first glance, I’m not a natural candidate, not being a hyperactive boy disrupting a classroom. I’m an educated, experienced professional with my own home and two children.
ADHD is a disorder of the brain. It usually starts in childhood, but can continue into adulthood. Someone with ADHD might be hyperactive, or have problems controlling their impulses; or they might be dreamy and forgetful, and find it difficult to maintain concentration.
And, if you look closer, the cracks in my life are apparent. I live in constant chaos. I do not know where my keys are. I only pay bills once the red ones arrive, and I have zoned out 20 times while writing this. And this is me on a good day. I cope (or, rather, don’t) by mentally flagellating myself, drinking at least six cups of coffee a day to improve my focus, and using six different calendars to keep track of my life.
Until 18 months ago I assumed that these were all personal shortcomings on my part. I’m lazy, perhaps, or just stupid. Maybe I’m just inherently slothful. Or maybe they’re symptoms of the depression and anxiety that have dogged me my whole life.
It didn’t occur to me that they might be symptoms of a medical issue until I read an article by Maria Yagoda in The Atlantic. As soon as I finished reading it, I cried for two hours straight. Then I called my GP for a referral.
I saw myself so clearly in Yagoda’s writing. That despite living like the worst teenage boy stereotype, I wanted to be organised. I have the Marie Kondo book (it is somewhere; I haven’t read it yet); I’m part of at least three Facebook groups dedicated to decluttering, and I’m so studied that I could write several treatises on time management. And yet I still live in this formless hinterland of missed appointments and scattered thoughts.
My past also started to make sense. At school I would jiggle uncontrollably in my chair. I excelled in the subjects I was interested in, but could barely understand others. I’d put my hand up in class, but because I was understood to be “bright” the teachers would accuse me of “making trouble”, penalise me for not turning in my work, and disbelieve me when I said I’d found it impossible.
Dr David Coghill from the Lancet study says: “In the UK and many countries outside the US, ADHD is under-recognised and under-diagnosed, and if you don’t recognise and diagnose someone you don’t have the option of what treatment they receive.”
I do wish I had been diagnosed as a child. It might have stopped me internalising and then beating myself with my teachers’ labels. It might have provided a counterpoint to the awful, critical inner voice that told me I was ridiculous and a time-waster, because I just generally can’t cope with life the way other people seem to. The fact that this behaviour couldn’t really be completely explained away by my existing depression and anxiety disorder just served to make me feel more isolated.
Most of the people I know who have ADHD say their focus has improved immeasurably with prescription treatment. With early diagnosis and treatment perhaps I wouldn’t have had such a dispiriting work history. I haven’t lasted more than two years in a job – it’s always gone the same way: I’ve impressed people, been promoted, completely failed to do any admin, gone down a disciplinary route, then quit before I could be fired.
By the time I read the Atlantic article, I was self-employed and in charge of two children. Everything was going completely to pot: tax returns, invoices, doctors’ appointments. That my kids were dressed every morning was a tiny miracle, partly because my predicament caused my depression to spiral.
I had my first ADHD consultation one month ago. Treatment will follow. Before that, though, I need to forgive myself. Because even though, as Yagoda wrote, I sometimes “can’t say that I know what part is ADHD, what part is me”, I do know that blaming myself for failing is no more helpful than blaming myself for not being able to fly.
According to Coghill: “We now have very clear evidence that the brains of children with ADHD both structurally and functionally are very different. That results in a wide range of cognitive difficulties, of difficulties of impulse control, and keeping attention.”
ADHD isn’t usually something that appears fully formed in adulthood. Early diagnosis means that I – and people like me – could be spared the endless anxiety that comes with trying to master life while hobbled by an inability to control our brains. So I welcome this study.
Perhaps with more work like this, children with these issues can flourish rather than fail.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies