Another day, another disappointing SEN related story. Hot on the heels of being told that parents to children with ASD should practice ‘super-parenting‘, a story in the Irish Independent claims that medical professionals are deliberately mis-diagnosing children with ADHD.
My heart sank when I read this. ADHD is already hugely misunderstood by the general public, with many thinking that it is over-diagnosed, or even a made-up diagnosis. Listening to a radio show the day the story was published only highlighted this, with many listeners texting in to propound the view that there’s no such thing as ADHD , it’s just naughty children and bad parenting.
Don’t you think I know you think my son is naughty when he can’t sit still in a restaurant, or when he lashes out at me, or his sister? Don’t you think I’ve asked myself a hundred times, was there something I did, something we are doing, which has caused this behaviour ?
Well, I’m here to tell you , smug person on the radio, that it’s not our fault, that he isn’t naughty (well, some of the time, he is a 6 year old boy after all ) and that I parent in the same ways as you do. Nothing I did caused this. You could be us.
Stories like this play to the lazy misconceptions that people hold. Just because you don’t have experience of it, doesn’t mean it isn’t a real thing.
The other aspect of this is the money. If this is happening, it is happening in private practices and therefore people are throwing large amounts of money around to get something from the public purse to which they are not entitled. An ADHD diagnosis can result in a child being allocated resource hours and special needs assistance in class. I say ‘can’ because it is is no way a given. It’s disappointing in the extreme that resources may not be allocated to the child more in need, because his parents couldn’t afford to seek a private diagnosis.
An ADHD diagnosis is not made solely on the basis of one person’s opinion though, and information is gathered from both the family and the school. Other articles discussing this story have suggested that teachers, for example, might exaggerate the difficulties a child has in order to ensure a diagnosis is given. With a child’s best intentions at heart, they are simply ensuring the right boxes are ticked.
Recently we received news of the outcome of our son’s application for Special Needs Assistance in the classroom. He was diagnosed with ADHD and ASD earlier this year. Despite the dual diagnosis, he has received only the additional resource hours (basically some one to one time outside the classroom) but not access to a Special Needs Assistant. The School has informed me this is likely because the letter of support which came from the CAMHS clinic stated he should have ‘all of the support available to him’ rather than specifically making reference to an SNA. If this is the kind of word play and box ticking exercise required, you can almost understand people tweaking the system to try and make it work for them.The system is broken, and no-one, least of all children who need it most, are benefiting.
I think it’s worth mentioning also that support is really based only in the school environment. Our son received his diagnosis in June, and other than a letter informing us about parenting classes we could sign up to (subject to availability) there has been no support for us as a family. Here’s a list of websites and books to read, off you go. It’s not good enough. I believe educational support is vital in ensuring children don’t fall behind in the early years, but families need help too, on a practical and ongoing basis.
As it happens, happily, our son is thriving in school this year and conversations I have had with his teacher indicate he will do fine with the resource hours, without needing an SNA. This is great news, however you are always aware that certain times or transitions may be more difficult than others. Last year was terrible, this year is good. Hopefully it will continue, because we can’t rely on this broken system to give us support.