Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Do we really cater for special educational needs?

For this blog entry I will be discussing special educational needs. It has been 50 years since the first British law was published to primarily cover disability. Throughout this time society has needed to adjust their own attitudes to allow disabled people to integrate into the community. The Chronically Ill and Disabled Persons Act 1970 was the first of its kind and has really changed people's attitudes relating to education, provision and employment for people who have physical and special educational needs. As much as this law may be ethically incorrect in certain ways, although it has been altered and changed over time, without it we would not be the society that we are today.
However, I feel that some of the priorities and attitudes of people have not changed. I am talking of my own experiences of currently undergoing the diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Hyperactive Deficit Disorder). The process of getting diagnosed is so tedious, difficult and expensive it is almost pointless to even try. It is especially hard to get a diagnosis as an adult. Throughout my education I have been a quiet and obedient student (see my previous blog) who was always well behaved. My respect for teachers and behavior was impeccable, only ever receiving detentions when I was missed important instructions, hence not completing the work. As an unknown ADHD sufferer I wasn’t the sort to answer back to teachers, shout out answers or lob the odd chair.
Not many people know that there are three types of ADHD; there is impulsive sort (most common and obvious), the inattentive (lacks the skills to sustain attention), and the combined sort (which is a mixture of both). I have the inattentive sort, which was formally known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). This means that I have a poor working memory and will struggle to remember instructions -even for a short period of time. I also have a real issue with external noises (as do a lot of people with ADHD) and a noise that is being made across the other side of the room will cancel out anything that is spoken to me, even if this person is speaking to me face to face. This means that lectures and seminars are always an issue.
In the UK we like to think of ourselves as modern thinkers, but people today still believe that this is a ‘made up condition’. As much as this is hard to believe, even general practitioners (GP’s) are not convinced. I know that the GP’s in my area have only just started to listen to the University’s Disability Assist’s pleas and may even start referring people onto the next stage. Whenever I have spoken to my GP they have been clueless on what to do, they say that they do not associate with ADHD and sent me to Disability Assist at the university (which only diagnose Dyslexia) even though I was armed with a cognitive assessment stating that I have a poor working memory.
In 2008 I was told by my lecturer that I may have dyslexia, within three weeks I had two cognitive assessments carried out and my diagnosis typed out and posted to me. The whole assessment was paid for by the university (worth £200) and I wasn’t even expected to pay for it even when it turned out I was not dyslexic. However for ADHD it is nearly impossible to get diagnosed. If you are lucky to get past your GP then you are likely to be sent across the other side of the country for an assessment that will cost you the best part of £1000. It seems that the NHS and has their priorities set.
This blog is not to rant about how useless the healthcare system is. I, and other ADHD suffers, want to raise awareness of the insufficient support that is provided for us. We, and certainly I, do not want extra benefit’s or drugs. When I have told people that I have ADHD I often get the same question, “Isn’t that when you chuck chairs at people?” No, it really isn’t! Even my own mother refused to acknowledge it. This is all because of a lack of understanding. It’s not really known and is badly publicised in the press. I did not even know about my own condition until I did a special educational needs module in my third year.
It is easy for everyone to focus on the negatives when it comes to ADHD. From my own personal experiences I have found that people with ADHD, like people with Dyslexia, are quite creative because they do not think in the same ways as other people.  They are also quite spontaneous and have good sense of initiative. As a trainee teacher I have also found that ADHD has helped my behaviour management in the classroom. Children cannot to talk over me or at each other; otherwise this will lose my train of thought. I also have the advantage of knowing what it is like to be unfocused and I can spot the signs pretty quickly.
Thank you for reading this post, I will keep you updated with the campaign that we are starting to get more support for people with ADHD in the South West, as there is currently none available. If anyone has any advice that they could give, it would be gratefully received. Also if anyone has any stories or ideas on how to keep ADHD children motivated in the classroom, then this would be most beneficial for us trainee teachers!

Katie O'Reilly (@kforeilly)