ADHD at the House of Lords

Dear colleagues here is a transcript of my speech made at an evening awareness meeting at the House of Lords on december 11th attended by a number of Lords, MPs invited guests and followed by Rory Bremner

Fin O’Regan Speech House of Lords 11.12.11

• As Dr Young has outlined very clearly, ADHD is an extremely important issue for the children and adolescents who suffer from it as well as their families, friends, teachers but it also spreads much wider having a significant impact on the healthcare system and society as a whole.
• What can be done to prevent the current situation as Dr Young described and how can children with ADHD be identified earlier? The problem often begins in the classroom but unlike the criminal justice system, the education system has been slow to recognise its impact. Whereas the youth crime action plan in 2008 identified ADHD as one of the main risk factors in criminal offending during childhood, ADHD struggles for recognition within the current educational system.
• The term ADHD does not appear in the SEN Code of Practice nor was the term mentioned in any of Sir Alan Steers 6 reports on Learning Behaviour. It is truly the poor relation with regards to SEN in the UK at this time.
• I often quote from a mother who recently said that “people in the UK do not accept, recognize or understand ADHD; they have no idea of the affect of Attention DEVASATION Hyperactivity disorder on my life “I looked at her thinking she was joking but she was not. This was truly the impact she experienced at the time.
• One big question is how to screen for these children so they don’t slip through the net. As Lord Hill commented during recent debates on the Education Bill, “We know that there is a group of children with SEN who are currently excluded on multiple occasions on a fixed-term basis, and there may be other excluded pupils whose SEN have not yet been identified. Incidents which prompt multiple exclusions will often be an indication that a pupil has underlying difficulties that may not have been correctly identified or met”. As a former Headteacher I do understand that exclusion is an unfortunate but sometimes necessary tool for Behaviour Modification but it is a blunt instrument for children who have impulsive and non premeditated behaviour and quite simply it does not work for modifying ADHD behaviour.
• Our recommendation is that once a child reaches second fixed-term exclusion, their learning and behavioural needs are appraised. Mental health needs can be screened for by a very simple yet scientifically respectable questionnaire such as the existing Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire completed by a parent and/or teacher, which will indicate whether multi-agency assessment is needed.
• If behavioural problems can be identified before leading to permanent exclusion from school, it is possible for the child’s behaviour to be managed appropriately and the negative impact of permanent exclusion on the child’s education and future avoided. Effective screening could result in a significant drop in permanent exclusions, save millions of pounds per year by keeping children out of costly Pupil Referral Units and, more importantly, set these children on a more positive path forward so as to avoid the well documented increased risks of involvement in the Youth Justice system, teenage pregnancies, motor vehicle accidents and drug and alcohol abuse. We must start thinking seriously about those who are at risk of exclusion as a result of ADHD by raising its profile on the political and healthcare agendas to ensure better futures for children with this condition. As a group we have had input to the consultancy stage of the SEN and Disabilities Green Paper. This appears to go some way to tackle this problem and as we have heard from Lord Hill: “In order to offer routinely more effective early support, we will recommend in exclusion guidance that children are assessed through an effective multi-agency assessment for any underlying causal factors and these should take account of all special educational needs, including ADHD. We will suggest that schools trigger this assessment in instances in which a pupil displays poor behaviour that does not improve despite effective behaviour management by the school”. Lord Hill also assures us that Governing bodies must take account of relevant information pertaining to the child when considering exclusion. They already have a duty to secure as far as they can that special educational provision is made for those pupils with special education needs, and future versions of guidance must make it explicit that they should take account of information relating to the child’s special educational needs, if any, in this situation.
• I mentioned earlier a mother who talked about Attention DEVASATION Hyperactivity Disorder well D also stands for DETACHMENT, DISILLUSHIONMENT, DESPAIR and DIASTER however it also stands for DIAGNOSIS, DESIRE and DETERMINATION and it is these positive Ds that I would; like to focus on to recognize and support children and young people with ADHD, keeping them in the classroom and out of the courtroom.
• Thank you for listening.