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The Sad Truth Many Children Are Facing Every Day In Schools And How We Can Change It


A child sits in a classroom fidgeting with his pencil.  As the lesson progresses the child becomes increasingly agitated and gets out of his seat.  “Sit down!” shouts the teacher, “I’m sick of you not paying attention and messing around.  Why can’t you just sit still and concentrate?!” 

The child sits back down and tries to laugh it off, but inside they are consumed with a familiar sickening feeling that something is just not right with them and that they are somehow ‘different’ to their peers. 

Meanwhile, in an adjacent classroom, a young girl is feeling panicky and lost as she has not managed to follow a teacher’s instruction – just a few sentences – whilst all the other children are busily writing down the question recently dictated.  She sits there with an acute feeling of failure and – just like the hyperactive boy – that she just isn’t the same as her friends.

What’s the problem? You may think.  The above sounds like every naughty child that I was ever at school with and, well, the young girl being described is probably a bit of a daydreamer who just needs to try harder.

The problem here is that these 2 situations describe some classic ‘traits’ of neurodiversity.  The former is very common in individuals with ADHD and the latter problem with working memory can be found in many, if not all people, with a specific learning difference (SpLD). 

Yet, without a formal diagnosis, these children are at risk of going through their whole lives without any help or support.  What are the possible consequences if we don’t provide this?  It can sometimes be a slippery slope from disciplinary school procedures to exclusion to someone eventually living on the periphery of society.

A study in the Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics at Yale University showed that a high incidence of individuals with ADHD and associated conditions were far likelier to engage in risky or violent acts which resulted in prison sentences. 

Yet, when early intervention and a strength-based approach is applied to children with this condition, their lives can follow a more positive path.

The question I want to tackle though is, why is this support not forthcoming.  Sadly, because of the way that many education systems are constructed, a formal diagnosis from a Child Psychiatrist is required. If this does not happen or if the child just doesn’t ‘tick enough boxes,’ then the funding cannot be given to help.

In addition to this, what about the elephant in the room? In the modern context of social media, have we unwittingly created a hyper-judgmental society? 

How many people look at a child with ADHD and think to themselves, ‘That kid just needs some good old-fashioned discipline. We didn’t have ADHD when I was young.’ 

Or even as adults, how many times has a person been mocked on social media because they don’t adhere to the social norms of communication?

But here’s the thing…

1.It has now been proven that the genetic risk contributing autism is one that exists in all of us.  The core symptoms of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) occur to varying degrees in all of us on an underlying behavioral continuum. (The University of Bristol and Broad Institute of Harvard).

2.The British Dyslexia Association states that Dyslexia is one of a family of Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) which often co-occur with related conditions such as dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and ADHD.

That means that by judging others you are actually judging yourself just as harshly and that if you make a claim that something like ADHD does not exist, then you are also effectively ruling out the existence of conditions such as dyslexia.

It’s not just a ‘quirk’ of your personality if you feel overwhelmed by the rush of people coming towards you in a busy shopping mall.  It’s not a reflection of your lack of discipline if you find it hard to concentrate for 1 hour of a meeting or lecture.

Our brains are all designed in a certain way and we are all on the continuum.  As the saying goes, ‘When you’ve met one person with dyslexia/autism/insert any SpLD, you’ve met one person.’

Our collective thinking as a society needs to change.  There is always a reason for every behavior. Sadly, the funding for training is not always available in schools, but we could start by simply showing compassion and patience.

‘Before you assume, learn the facts, before you judge, understand why.’ Most people can be totally awesome, given half a chance.

This Article was written by Suzanne Robertshaw. Suzanne Robertshaw is a teacher and learning support tutor for students with learning differences (including ADHD). She is also a teacher trainer who regularly speaks at conferences about supporting students with ADHD and other learning differences. She is passionate about promoting positive and inclusive learning for all and hopes to raise awareness of the many strengths of neuro-diverse learners as well as challenge some of the myths surrounding ADHD.

You can contact her at [email protected].