Last month ADDISS, the national ADHD charity, held a series of regional conferences and a member of the SPACE team went along. Those of you that follow us on Twitter will have noticed that we took over your timeline for a couple of days by live tweeting as much as we could fit into 140 characters at a time.
A lot of the conference focused on adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In the United Kingdom there is estimated to be between 2 and 3.3 million adults with the condition. Here at SPACE we focus on providing support to parents of children and do very little relating to adults, but since being a parent is an ongoing thing, understanding how adults are affected is obviously of interest.
Children with ADHD mature into adults with ADHD. The presentation of symptoms may be different but, despite what you may have been told, children do not grow out of it. It doesn’t magically disappear on their 18th birthday. If you have a ten year old with ADHD then you’re going to have a 20 year old with ADHD and eventually a forty year old with ADHD, so with this in mind understanding adults with the condition is pretty vital.
The theme of the conference was early Interventions and Outcomes. It focused on the importance of getting things right for children with ADHD, to help them grow into happy healthy adults with productive lives, because statistically our children are less likely to get there without that extra help and support. The conference showed the best things about ADHD but also balanced it out by highlighting the very worst things.
One of the speakers Phil Anderton PhD, Author of The Tipping Points, is a former police officer who provided some very sobering statistics including
- Children with ADHD are 14 times more likely to be run over crossing the road
- The risk of being arrested for most young adults is 20% for young adults with ADHD this doubles to 40%
- 25% of the 80,000 prison population have ADHD as opposed to a conservative estimate of 5% of the general population
Although ADHD is generally considered a behavioural problem, the negative behaviours exist for a physiological reason and one of the many differences between children with and without ADHD is their emotional maturity. Although one child may be 6 months older chronologically, their brain may actually be less mature than a child who is considerably younger than they are. Physically your son or daughter may be 17 years of age but it’s possible that emotionally they are only 14 and emotional maturity matters.
“Some people have a built in need for exploratory behaviour and risk taking” Kevin Roberts
A need for friends, low self esteem, a built in predisposition towards risk taking behaviour and low emotional maturity can be a disaster for some young people. It can make them very vulnerable and lead to a variety of different problems including issues at school, dangerous activities and inappropriate sexual activity.
If the treatment of ADHD in a young person isn’t right then the likelihood of their involvement in crime is much higher and for those of us with older children, dealing with the police can become a part of day to day parenting. Realistically a lot of parents need to have a plan of exactly what to do if your child is arrested and needs you to attend the police station.
During the conference we had the opportunity to see a role play with a serving police officer and a gentleman called Gary, an adult with ADHD. During the session Gary provided the audience with additional comments based on instances from his own past and gave examples of how he would have tried to speed up proceedings by not mentioning that he had a condition or refusing to answer any questions in his own defence, so that he could get out of the police station quicker. None of it was real, but it gave us a tiny glimpse of exactly what could happen if our sons or daughters are arrested, particularly if they are over 18.
It is both sobering and frightening to think that your lively young child may have a higher risk of substance abuse, assault, unplanned pregnancy and being arrested than their counterparts, but unfortunately children with ADHD are at greater risk and this is why the information in this conference was so important.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is an 80% inheritable factor, so not only do we want to understand adult ADHD as a parent, but also because it’s fairly obvious that some of us have it too. We may not all have been formally diagnosed and we may not present in the same ways as our children, but there are lots of parents out there who recognise themselves and their own childhoods in the literature they read on their journey through their child’s diagnosis.
Scary statistics aside, most of the conference was very upbeat and highlighted the very positive side of attention deficit, including some magnificient high energy speakers. If you ever get the opportunity to hear Kevin Roberts and Jerry Mills speak about ADHD then you should definitely jump at the chance. The team of speakers are chosen because they are experts in their field and use their unique skills and personal experiences to bring the subject to life. Most of the speakers are published authors who have chosen to support ADDISS as a way of sharing information with parents, professionals and adults with ADHD. The conference line up also included an ADHD Coach working with young adults who discussed the difference between empowering others and enabling them and author Marko Ferek who urged us all to replace the word disorder with difference. The word disorder can only ever be considered a bad thing and not everything about ADHD is bad. Some of it is amazing and exciting, even being a risk taker isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s only bad if you can’t control it.
Although having ADHD can limit a child’s potential, the theme of the conference was that if we get things right during childhood that it doesn’t have to. If we get things right at school, education doesn’t have to suffer. If we understand about emotional maturity, we can make decisions based on the child and not a child of their age. If we can bolster self esteem and manage risk taking, we can reduce the negative effects of dangerous and impulsive behaviours. The conference encouraged us all to change our thoughts and feelings about ADHD. Together we can help children with ADHD find positive ways to use their power, intensity and genetic predisposition and means that next generation of adults with ADHD won’t have such a difficult journey.