My teenage daughter has both ADHD and dyslexia. She gets extra time for school exams, but it's so hard for her because she has to focus for far longer than anyone else". Jill sheds light on the journey so far, and how both she and her daughter have adapted.
We knew my daughter was different by the time she was a year old. She couldn't sit down and concentrate for more than a microsecond.
At the playgroup she went to we were asked to leave because she couldn't sit still and concentrate at all. She used to love getting sent outside because in the playground she could run free - and this was far better in her mind than sitting and looking at boring old puzzles and books.
When I would read with her, I'd notice that every time some words cropped up, we'd spell them out, but by the end of the book she'd not know them any better than at the start. It was like she was seeing the words for the first time every single time - they were like gobbledygook to her. At nursery school they picked it up straight away. They said to us that we really needed to go and have her assessed by a speech and language therapist. My husband didn't take kindly to it at first, you know, "Are you saying there's something wrong with our daughter?" Anyway, we took her along - and that's when we started the therapy journey. Speech and language therapy but also occupational therapy.
They diagnosed her as having ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) whereby the neurones just don't connect properly, and messages from her brain just don't reach where they are supposed to be going. We realised that she was going to have to learn things in a different way - especially when years later we also had a diagnosis of dyslexia confirmed.
She was more about visual learning and tactile learning - holding and touching - and lots and lots of repetition. It was the start of the struggle and even now she cannot easily remember her left and her right! She has to make an 'L' shape with the thumb and forefinger of her left hand to ensure that this must be her left hand.
She struggled in regular school but spent time - while we were working abroad in fact - at a remedial school with just twelve in a class. They had onsite speech therapy, remedial teaching - all geared around children with learning disabilities. They suggested we put her on medication - Ritalin - and I have to say it made a huge difference. We were very resistant to it at first but eventually we relented. The results were unbelievable: chalk and cheese. You'd look in her school book and you could see from one week to the next the difference in her handwriting, and the difference in what she wrote. You have to very careful because it doesn't work instantly, and it doesn't work with every child, and you have to experiment - with the help of the specialist - to get the right dosage. The teachers were very well trained and when we returned to the UK she was able to go to secondary school, although it took a couple of goes to get it right.
The first school was a disaster because the so-called 'learning support system' turned out to be just one woman who frankly, just didn't get it. We tried for a while, but in the end we found another school which is where our daughter is now. And it just about works. It's not convenient in terms of location, and the journey is awful, completely off-piste for us, but it's much better suited to her. The school provides superb teaching support and facilities and its a lovely environment in which she has settled and flourished, and they make allowances for her where they can, although ultimately, my daughter and I have to work hard at home and be as disciplined as we can to keep her on track.
One ongoing problem though is that she won't finish all her work in class, so she is given that to finish off, as well as the actual homework on top. And doing her homework will take two or three times as long to do as it would do for her peers. So that became a massive battleground and a huge strain at home. She still has processing problems, and has to often spend a lot of time working out what the words she reads might mean. And of course by the time she has done that, she might have lost track of the context of those words, so sentences with clauses can be particularly difficult.
In the end, we realised we needed to get a tutor. I'm good at maths and science - but not great at English. I can read something and tell you that it does or doesn't read well; I can proofread and spot errors but for English, we have really needed a tutor. And someone extra who can just help support us as a family in this way. We're lucky in that we can afford it.
My main focus is getting her through her English Language GCSE. I am not so fussed about English Literature. Much as I would love her to be well-versed in all the classics, it is going to be a struggle. As a work-round and a compromise, we listen to audiobooks in the car, and she does quite well at concentrating on these in short bursts as long as I insist she sits in the front with me - and switches her phone off.
With all her exams they give her extra time. This is a good thing in some ways, except for the fact that since she has such difficulty concentrating it makes things harder too, because she has to focus for much longer than anyone else, and she is least able to do it. She gets to use a laptop though, and can have the help of a reader, and a scribe to help her.
I also approached work with the idea of adjusting my start and finish times. I was already only working four full-time days a week at that point, but in the end, we agreed I would go back to a five-day working pattern and with shorter hours each day. This means I can be there at home time every day.
I used to worry about other people. They would look down on your child and say: "Oh, my child can do this; my child can do that", and you don't want to say, "Well, my child has not really moved on in the same way". We're way beyond that now. As parents we really just try and focus on what she can do, and of course what she will do in the future. She's on a different medication now too and we count ourselves very fortunate that there have been no drastic consequences or side-effects that have arisen. Or none that she or we couldn't cope with.
One of the encouraging things for me, is that my daughter is an amazingly bright and vivacious person - she really lives in the moment and brings energy to every situation. And she is a very decisive person. Some people dither and get caught 'in the headlights' so to speak, unsure of whether to do this or that, and perhaps in the end missing an opportunity. Not my daughter. She has this ability to make quick decisions, almost intuitively, and good ones too! This is completely the opposite to how I do things, so I found it quite unnerving at first. However, for her it seems to be a special skill.
Whether it's extracurricular activities at school, or getting involved with sports, or just getting stuck in to doing something, or not - excusing herself and ducking out - using her judgment on whether to go somewhere with friends, she will listen to what people are saying, take in whatever she wants to, or can, and then make a decision.
To me, this will stand her in good stead whatever she ends up doing after her academic career, such as it is, comes to an end. She won't be persuaded to do something she doesn't 'feel' is right, and doesn't feel any pressure to conform with everything that her friends think. Looking to the future, I do think that maybe she could yet make a very good entrepreneur, or business leader. She'll just need to have a good accountant she can trust and someone else to read the contracts for her before she signs them!
Jill, a chartered accountant works reduced hours, five days a week. Chosen personal medication includes green tea (mornings) and red wine (evenings)