BY: Louise Hilliar
During the sixth week of the 2020 coronavirus lockdown, I spotted a comment on social media written by a young woman. She mentioned that having ADHD at this time led to some particular challenges and kindly agreed to be interviewed about her life before and during lockdown. Her name has been changed to protect her identity.
Louise: Tell me a bit about yourself.
Clare: I am 28 years old and live with my partner in the West Midlands.
Louise: How did your diagnosis of ADHD come about?
Clare: I was labelled a ‘naughty child’ at school and had been diagnosed with dyslexia. It wasn’t until I was 25 that I was finally diagnosed with ADHD.
Louise: What work do you do?
Clare: I am a teaching assistant and mentor working with children with complex needs and behavioural difficulties. I hope to begin training as a PE teacher in September.
Louise: Does being neurodivergent help you in your work?
Clare: Yes, I have an excellent relationship with students. They know that I have ADHD and I am a positive role model for them.
Louise: Aside from special challenges linked with the lockdown, what difficulties do you experience that may be related to neurodivergence?
Clare: If I don’t take my medication, I have lots of energy and talk so quickly that no-one understands me. I also struggle to concentrate if I don’t take my medication. I often find it difficult to express my feelings and am easily wound up by people which may lead to angry outbursts. Changes to my routine and going to new places can lead to meltdowns. Also, I struggle to read people and to know when they are joking.
Louise: How have you managed these difficulties in the past?
Clare: I make sure that I follow a routine and take my medication. Taking this allowed me to finally pass my driving test and my GCSEs in Maths and English. I am supported by my partner, my family, and my ADHD specialist nurse. When I’m going to take part in a social event people tell me all about the arrangements a week before so I can prepare myself.
Louise: What challenges do you usually experience in everyday life?
Clare: I struggle to sleep because my brain does not switch off. I need to have my shopping delivered as I dislike busy shops and hate queuing. I don’t like being touched by people I don’t know so shaking hands and being hugged can be difficult. A small issue with other people can easily turn into a big argument as I don’t understand what I have done wrong. At home I sometimes say unpleasant things, but I can control this at work and I rarely have outbursts when I am taking my medication.
Louise: How do you manage these challenges?
Clare: If I feel that my medication is not working well, I contact my specialist nurse and he may change it or increase the dose. I need to speak to my mum every day. She calms me down and explains social situations to me.
Louise: What challenges does your ADHD usually present for you at work?
Clare: I become very upset when my timetable is changed at short notice. Receiving negative feedback and having duties taken away from me at work affects my self-esteem and I ruminate about such things for a long time afterwards. I become frustrated when I struggle with something or if colleagues laugh at my written work or mock me in front of the students when I cannot pronounce a word.
Louise: How do you manage these challenges?
Clare: I don’t say anything at the time, but I speak to my mum or partner about things later. I write about my feelings in a diary and play computer games as a distraction. I don’t feel like going to work the morning after a difficult day at work, but I still go as my priority is to help the students.
Louise: Did you see any benefits of being neurodivergent prior to the lockdown?
Clare: Yes, I was extremely focused on becoming a PE teacher and promoting equal rights at work. I was also strongly focused on making a positive difference to the lives of my students.
Louise: What additional challenges do you experience at home now that we are in lockdown?
Clare: The changes to my routine have made me anxious. My partner is at home most of the time and I am delivering work packs instead of working in the school. On the days when I am not delivering work packs, I find that I have too much energy. I can’t go to see my family and friends and I am getting very bored. I particularly miss my weekly game night with my friends. I get very frustrated waiting in the queue to go into the supermarket. Also, I have become obsessed with the coronavirus and this has added to my anxiety.
Louise: What strategies have you employed to help with this?
Clare: My partner makes a list of jobs for me to do each day to keep me busy and to take my mind off of being upset that I have not been chosen to go into the school. I’ve also been building things out of Lego, playing FIFA on my Xbox, drawing, reading, and revising physical education ready for my exams to become a PE teacher. As well as this, I’ve been cleaning the house, washing the car, gardening, and doing Joe Wicks’ PE workout.
Louise: It sounds as though keeping busy has helped. Is there anything else that you might be able to do?
Clare: Not really, I know that lots of people are doing yoga, but I find this really boring.
Louise: Do you think that the government should put special concessions into place for those with ADHD at the moment?
I think that people with ADHD should have been allowed to see family at a distance of two metres from the start of the lockdown and that they should have been allowed to exercise for more than an hour. This would have protected their mental health. As some people with ADHD may be finding things particularly difficult, they would have benefitted from regular contact from specialists. Also, I think the Government should class students with ADHD as being vulnerable and allow them to go to school if they want to. Lastly, the Government should explain changes to the lockdown rules in simple English as I still don’t understand what I can and cannot do.
Louise: What lessons have you learnt from this lockdown period?
Clare: I have learnt that you can’t always control changes to your routine and that you can cope with this despite it being difficult. This time has given me the opportunity to reflect on things and to realise that it is sometimes best to move on from a situation that does not suit you. I am determined not to be discouraged by other people and to pursue my goal of becoming a PE teacher so that I can continue to build relationships with young people and make a difference to them.
Louise: What are you most looking forward to when the lockdown ends?
Clare: I’m looking forward to getting back to life as normal, seeing my family, hugging them, and having a meal at my parents’ house. I’m also looking forward to going to the zoo with my partner and, at some point, having the holiday which we have had to postpone. I can’t wait to catch up with my students, have a game night with my friends, and get food from the drive-through at McDonald’s!
Louise: What advice would you give to other adults with ADHD to help them to manage at this time?
Clare: Be proud of who you are and don’t be afraid to ask for help. This does not mean that you are weak, and it will make your life a lot easier. Take this time to become more positive about your ADHD and what you can achieve.
Comments from Louise:
It was fascinating to hear Clare’s very personal story. When I found out that Clare finds change to routine and new experiences difficult, struggles to read people, needs clear instructions, has strong interests, and experiences sensory overload, this led me to wonder whether she has autism. It is common for people to have two, or more, neurodiverse conditions and autism may present differently in those with ADHD. I discussed this with Clare and suggested that she found out more about autism by looking at the National Autistic Society website. I also suggested that Clare could discuss reasonable adjustments at work with her line manager. Some useful information can be found here. Finally, I reminded Clare to apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances which cover some of the extra costs associated with having a neurodiverse condition when studying at university.