Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder keeps making headlines at the moment. With high-profile figures like Jamie Oliver, Dave Grohl and Celeste Barber going public about having ADHD, we’re seeing a surge in adults being diagnosed with it. There is a growing public awareness of the condition, and recognition that it is far more prevalent than previously imagined.
But this realisation doesn’t seem to be hitting home in the one area where it is surely most urgent – in schools. With overwhelming evidence that it affects approximately one in 20 of the population, any teacher is likely to have at least one child with ADHD in their class. Yet the training available to teachers remains negligible, particularly Australia, which is around ten years behind the US in addressing the issue. Non-profit organisation ADHD Australia has identified a “lack of resources, support, programs and special learning opportunities” in schools, with “limited and inconsistent funding of resources”.
I’ve been a teacher for more than 25 years, and I’m continually struck by the lack of understanding of this complex neuro-biological condition among my profession. Yet when I talk to teachers about ADHD, they always express a profound desire to know more and find ways to support these kids. But the educational establishment is not providing the necessary tools; and tragically, it is failing countless children as a result. As ADHD Australia puts it, “School is the place where the most damage can be done, but also where the greatest difference can be made.”
My interest in ADHD evolved after members of my own family were diagnosed with the condition. Their experiences spurred me to learn more. I soon became aware of the existence of ADHD coaches, who specialise in helping people manage the condition and access support. Having already been delivering teacher professional development programs for several years, I decided to train as an ADHD coach under Cindy Goldrich, founder of PTS Coaching and one of the most respected authorities on ADHD in the US.
I subsequently established ADHDvantage, a consultancy offering coaching and support for people dealing with ADHD. We run workshops where parents can learn proven strategies and techniques for raising a child with ADHD and maximising their potential. We also offer advocacy support, helping parents navigate the education system and grapple with the bureaucracy to ensure their child gets all the support they are entitled to.
In addition, ADHDvantage is the only organisation in Australia authorised to administer MindPrint, a cognitive assessment tool developed by neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania that provides a detailed evaluation of the specific way an individual child learns. This is a lifeline for parents of neurodiverse kids in Australia, who might otherwise wait a year or more for a psychologist’s evaluation.
What makes ADHDvantage unique in Australia is our training program for educators. I’m proud to say I’m still a working teacher (part-time), and this gives me a first-hand understanding of the complexities of teaching pupils with ADHD. I have also completed training in Teaching Children and Teens with ADHD/Executive Function Challenges. Through ADHDvantage, we can work with teachers and schools to help them understand the needs of students and to make the adaptations required.
The growing roll-call of celebrities with ADHD plays into a common misconception that kids with the condition are free-thinking visionaries, destined for high-achieving careers. But the reality is that children with ADHD are at heightened risk of behavioural issues, bullying, mood and anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and poor educational, social and occupational outcomes. These kids do indeed have enormous potential, but they need the right support and understanding to help them realise it. And teachers need the right tools to help them.
Image by Zaksheuskaya