‘My mission in life’ – how mum with ADHD is fighting for children to get the support she never had

Andrea Bell, chief executive of ADHD Norfolk. Picture: ANDREA BELL

Andrea Bell, chief executive of ADHD Norfolk. Picture: ANDREA BELL - Credit: Archant

As a child and young adult, Andrea Bell struggled to concentrate, remember things and always felt like she was never quite good enough.

Rory Bremner with Andrea Bell, who supported a video she made about ADHD. Picture: COURTESY OF ANDRE

Rory Bremner with Andrea Bell, who supported a video she made about ADHD. Picture: COURTESY OF ANDREA BELL - Credit: Archant

Yet until she was 34, the Aylsham mother was – like many children and young people are today – completely oblivious to the fact she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

ADHD, which causes things such as short attention span and difficulties focusing, often results in young people having problems in school because they can be misunderstood as being naughty.

MORE: Fighting to stay on top of an attention deficitIt is a feeling Mrs Bell knows all too well, as she went through her entire school life and early career without even knowing why she was different from others.

'I was diagnosed at 34,' she said.

Andrea Bell. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Andrea Bell. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

'When I left school, I knew people didn't like me. I say what I think because I don't filter it before I say it.

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'People would say I need to sort it out. I had no confidence or self-esteem.'

MORE: Aylsham mother Andrea Bell backed by comedian after her emotional video message about ADHD goes viralAs chief executive of ADHD Norfolk, it is a problem she has seen repeated amongst children throughout the school system and NHS because their differences are not detected.

The 44-year-old recently helped to write a report by the ADHD Foundation called A Lifetime Lost Or A Lifetime Saved, which argues that there is a 'human cost of undiagnosed, untreated ADHD' which is causing people to 'suffer unnecessarily'.

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A covering letter signed by Mrs Bell and sent to MPs and healthcare leaders also argues: 'There are cost burdens to schools, resulting in children being unable to achieve their potential because the support they need.'

Mrs Bell, whose 15-year-old child also has ADHD and 13-year-old son has the similar attention deficit disorder (ADD), said ADHD often does not become apparent until a children starts school.

'When they go into year-one, there are a lot more structures and it's not play-orientated,' she explained.

'They're not sitting down and concentrating and how that looks is that they can't be bothered.'

MORE: New community cafe to open with proceeds split between charities supporting people with post-natal depression and ADHDGood teachers and teaching assistants, she said, should be able to spot when a child needs support.

But she said: 'They don't have a lot of the training and they are not given the tools the support.

'As a result the child tries to meet the expectations of the school system but because they can't quite meet the expectations of the school system, there can be a stage between seven and 11 years old when they just shut down.

'People say they're being defiant but when they're trying to achieve something and can't, they will shut down and then they'll stop caring.'

Children with strong characters and resilient characters can push through and go on to achieve great things, Mrs Bell said.

However others, fed up of being misunderstood, will often become 'class clowns' because that is a way of getting approval from their friends.

All the while, she said in many cases schools and parents are dealing with what they think is a behavioural problem, unaware of what really lies behind their actions.

'They're putting things in place to manage behaviour but it's like putting a plaster on,' she said.

The tragedy of this, she said, is that supported properly, children with ADHD have special skills and talents.

'They're quick-thinking, smart and take risks,' she said.

'In a crisis, a person with ADHD is the one I would want by me side.'

Support programmes to help with minimise any difficulties with concentration and focus – which can include a mixture of medication and extra classroom support – also have a 90pc success rate.

As a result, Mrs Bell believes the debate around ADHD needs to be 'completely reformed' so that the needs of young people with it are better understood.

'These children have no idea what's wrong with them,' she said.

'There are so many people out there who have it and are struggling that is what it is.

'The key thing is awareness and the second thing is for people to understand what it is, even if they have it.

'If you have ADHD, then medication is not enough – they need to be talked to and listened to.

'I vow that I will work until the day I die to help these children. It is my mission in life.'

Factfile: About ADHD

?It is estimated that ADHD affects up to 5pc of school-age children and young people.

? ADHD is a lifelong condition and it is believed that 15pc of children will carry the full set of symptoms into adulthood, with 65pc displaying some symptoms that affect their daily lives.

? ADHD can affect people of all intellectual ability, but the symptoms can negatively impact upon a child's education and development.

? Boys are more frequently diagnosed with the hyperactive trait often seen as disruptive behaviour.

? Girls commonly have inattentive tratis such as daydreaming, which increases the chances of ADHD being undiagnosed.

? Research has shown that ADHD is genetically inherited.

? Symptoms include short attention span, making careless mistakes, forgetfulness, constant fidgeting, excesssive physical movement, and acting without thinking.

? If you or your child displays the symptoms the first course of action should be to see your GP.

? No cure has been found but various treatment is offered. They include: Counselling, cognitive behaviour therapy, diet supplements, exercise.

? The types of medication available are Methylphenidate, Dexamfetamine, Lidexamfetamine, and Atomoxetine.

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