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A perception of SEND in the media

Updated: May 3, 2023

While browsing my Apple News app a couple of weeks ago, I came across a column in the Sunday Times that provoked an instant reaction in me. Titled “I’m sorry, but all this ADHD doesn’t add up”, the columnist writes that “show business has become a kind of forum” for celebrities to speak about being diagnosed with ADHD. There is further suggestion that more members of the general public are seeking “assessment” off the back of this, which is causing backlog in NHS mental health services.

There are many points of this column that I find questionable. There is an insinuation that raising awareness of ADHD and other neurological disorders could do more harm than good for mental health services. In recent years there has been a huge effort made to de-stigmatise mental health issues and encourage people to speak up about how they are feeling. To then have an article in mainstream media state that raising awareness of conditions could “overstretch and demoralise our mental health service” has the potential to be extremely damaging. People who are undiagnosed but struggling with daily life due to very real issues could continue to struggle because they have been shamed into not discussing how they feel.

The trivialisation of ADHD symptoms is also concerning. Suggesting that “constant fidgeting, poor concentration, acting without thinking, careless mistakes, forgetfulness, difficulty organising tasks, inability to listen or carry out instructions” happen to most people at some point in life is in the same vein as saying ‘everyone is a bit autistic’. Yes, a lot of people will recognise these characteristics in themselves, but it is the extent to which these things affect a person’s daily life that marks the difference. Being a bit fidgety while sitting on the sofa is one thing, being unable to sit still for any length of time is quite another.

Finally, the suggestion that the impact of social media and smartphone use on concentration will “multiply the number of people who believe they have ADHD” and that the “best treatment” may be to reduce phone usage, is likely to be hurtful to people who have been diagnosed and find daily tasks a struggle. As someone who is ‘wired differently’, the suspicion that there is a difference in the way you think is not a phase or something trivial. For years before I was diagnosed with dyspraxia, I felt like there was something wrong with me and I knew I was different from other children. In my experience, you don’t spend years thinking your brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s, unless it doesn’t!

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