Bristol support group for adults with ADHD
Question: How many children with ADHD does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: Let's go swimming!
It's an old joke, but one that sums up some of the greatest problems of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
First, of course, those affected by the condition have difficulties in focusing their minds upon anything.
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Then there are the problems caused by the attitudes of others – such as the view that this inability to think in a coherent manner is somehow rather amusing, and the perception that ADHD is a condition that largely affects children.
The fact that 20 adults turned up to a recent meeting of the newly-formed Bristol and South East Wales Adult ADHD Support Group demonstrates the fallacy of that latter belief.
"I think the biggest benefit of attending a meeting for someone with ADHD is the realisation that they're not alone," says Susan Dunn Morua, 58, who helped set up the group, which already has an email list of about 100 members.
"They can be who they are and don't have to hide," she says.
"We get people coming from as far away as Salisbury."
Many of those who attend the monthly meetings, at The Pierian Centre in Bristol, have had their lives overshadowed not only by the symptoms typical of ADHD – such as poor concentration, carelessness, forgetfulness, and an inability to be quiet – but also because their condition went undiagnosed for many years.
This is what happened in Susan's case. She has a high IQ of 120, and a masters degree in library science. Yet she only managed to complete her studies after she received her ADHD diagnosis and was put on medication.
"I knew I had a problem with maths – I didn't learn to tell the time until I was 11 – but apart from that I didn't know there was anything wrong," says Susan, who lives with her husband Mike, 50, an engineer, in Blagdon, on the outskirts of Bristol.
"I was at university in America, and I was having to do it one lecture at a time because it was such a struggle. One of my professors noticed I was having some problems with linguistics in class, and suggested that I get tested.
"The test showed I have an IQ of 120, but that I have dyscalculia, which explained the difficulties I'd always had with maths. It was also observed that I had symptoms of ADHD, so I went for further tests a couple of months later.
"When I got the results I was told my ADHD was bad enough for me to be put on medication.
"Thirty minutes after I'd taken the medication, it was as if for the first time in my life I could suddenly see the day in front of me.
"It was like putting on a pair of glasses and being able to see properly after suffering from bad eyesight for years. There was this sudden clarity.
"After I got the medication, I got my degree. I don't know if I'd have managed otherwise."
Susan's initial euphoria after being put on medication for ADHD was replaced by feelings of anger about the fact that she had struggled for so many years.
"When I was first diagnosed and put on medication, it was so exciting. I could see all these possibilities in front of me and I knew what to do, I went around telling everyone about it," she recalls.
"Then I got really angry that nobody had ever really noticed the extent to which I was struggling. I had all the symptoms of ADHD; I drifted in and out of conversations, I didn't remember things, I was always starting projects but not finishing them, and having lots of ideas but not managing to achieve them.
"As a child my mind would be somewhere else in lesson. My teachers called me a 'lazy little monkey' and said that I didn't try hard enough.
"Children with ADHD are treated as if they are naughty and badly-behaved, and the attitude towards adults is that they should pull themselves together."
As well as co-founding the support group, Susan has also set up a nationwide website for adults with the condition – www.aadd.org.uk – which has a forum with about 500 members.
She is also organising a petition for dedicated NHS funding for people who have been diagnosed with ADHD, which has already attracted over 1,300 signatures.
"Some people call it a hidden impairment. It's been estimated that one in 25 adults need help because of problems with ADHD.
"If more people were treated in time, they wouldn't later need to be treated for problems like anxiety, addiction and depression, and would be better able to hold down jobs and pay taxes."
"Some of the people who have contacted the website have been through hell because of undiagnosed ADHD. They've been involved in drugs, or alcohol, or gambling, or they've gone bankrupt because they've started a business with a great idea but couldn't cope with all the paperwork.
"There is very little help for them as adults. Some GPs are understanding but others have very dismissive attitudes. I had a call the other day from a man in his 70s who was very upset.
"He thought he had ADHD, but when he went to his doctor for help he was told there was no point in him seeing a consultant because he was too old.
"Even when people are diagnosed and put on medication, there's a mess to clear up from living so long without a diagnosis. Not being diagnosed means they have had to grow up without social skills and their self-esteem is very low."
There is no fee to join the support group. Those who attend just pay a share of the cost of room hire, which is about £3 to £5.
Many of the people who attend have been told about it by the adult ADHD clinic at the BRI, for which there is a waiting list of about a year for a diagnosis.
However, Susan points out that many other health authorities do not even provide treatment for adult ADHD.
"There are also other ways in which people with ADHD can be helped," she says.
"We had a 'de-clutterer' attend one of our meetings, as people with ADHD can function better if their houses are orderly. We've also had a counsellor from the Bristol clinic come to talk about different aspects of ADHD.
"Other times it's just the group, and we talk about whatever people want to talk about.
"Often it's just a relief for them to be with people who understand how difficult life can be for them."
●The next meeting of the group will be at the Pierian Centre in Portland Square, Bristol, on Monday December 6, between 7pm and 9pm.