The mother of a young man whose attention deficit disorder (ADD) remained undiagnosed until his seventeenth birthday has hit out at the lack of awareness of the condition among local teachers and GPs.

Lilian Rosborough, from Lisbellaw, was so convinced that her son Alex’s poor performance at school was a result of her parenting skills, she became “distraught” and participated in an eight-week parenting course in a bid to tackle the situation.

ADD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental health disorders and symptoms include impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention. Treatment includes medication and therapeutic interventions.

Alex dropped out of school before sitting his GCSEs but is now employed from home by a US gaming company to play computer games and is ranked as the number one ‘Destiny’ gamer in the world.

The 17-year-old has ambitions to re-enter the education system, with the correct supports in place, and is aiming to become an IT technician.

“This story has a happy ending, but it could have been different,” Mrs. Rosborough told The Impartial Reporter.

 “There was an underlying nod from teachers that you need to take this boy in hand,” claimed the concerned mother, who is speaking out in the hope that she can raise awareness of ADD/ADHD and the supports that can be put in place for people with the condition.

“I felt so guilty. He was 16 at that point and I was already packing his bag each day,” she added. “His grandparents came over to talk to him. He was trying hard but for some reason it wasn’t working.”

Trips to her local GP  to discuss her son’s “behavioural issues” including being hyper and not sleeping were frequent during his youth.

Mrs. Rosborough, who is now a peer support advocate with Enniskillen-based group Adult ADHD NI, commented: “I now know this was hyper focus – when Alex has something on his mind there’s nothing else that matters.”

READ: Help for adults with ADHD

It was during his second year that Mrs. Rosborough and her husband Mark became aware of Alex’s increasingly “scatty” behaviour which included him forgetting to write down his homework.

“I began packing his bag but between classes he would leave things in his locker – I had no control over that,” she said, adding: “He would leave his PE bag at school or would miss the bus at the depot. He couldn’t concentrate for a triple period and would start knocking his pencil off the table or kicking the chair and would be put out of the classroom – detentions were frequent.”

Mrs. Rosborough continued: “He was getting frustrated. I took his X-Box off him, thinking that would make him concentrate better.”

She added: “The school was fond of him because he is soft natured but because they weren’t trained to spot the signs of ADHD they thought he was being lazy and couldn’t be bothered.”

Matters came to a head in fourth year when, after seeking outside support, Alex’s parents discovered Adult ADHD NI, a local support group, run by Emma Weaver and Niall Greene, which signposted them to services which could help Alex get a diagnosis. The group also made the Rosborough family aware of their right to request an educational psychologist to assess Alex for his educational needs.

“I wrote to the school’s Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator asking for Alex to be assessed for ADHD and they initially said no because if he had ADHD it would have been picked up at primary school,” said Mrs. Rosborough. She insisted, and he was seen by an educational psychologist who concluded that Alex did show signs of ADHD and confirmed that he had a slow processing speed.

“That was a light bulb moment,” said Mrs. Rosborough.

The next step was to receive a medical diagnosis, so Alex was referred to the NHS by the educational psychologist. The paediatrician at SWAH said he might have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which was later ruled out. Two years passed, during which time Alex left school because he felt: “What’s the point?”

The family are still waiting for an NHS assessment. In the meantime, they paid for a private assessment. 

“Alex was officially diagnosed with ADD in November 2016,” said Mrs. Rosborough, adding: “It was such a relief. We could finally put a name on how Alex felt and we knew we hadn’t been imagining this. We now have access to support through Adult ADHD NI and Alex has grown into himself. He is happier and is very accepting of his condition.”

However, because he has not yet been diagnosed by the NHS, the family still attend their private doctor who administers the medication Alex needs to control his symptoms.

Reflecting on Alex’s experience, Mrs. Rosborough said: “Alex has lost all of his schooling but has been saved by his diagnosis.”

The mother-of-two is “super proud” to report that he is now employed by a US gaming company to play computer games and has recently built his own computer, paid for by his earnings.

“Getting paid to game is every young man’s dream and Alex is an expert in his field. As parents we admire him. He has taken ownership of his diagnosis and is thriving – you can see his brilliance coming through,” she said.

Alex submitted a written comment to The Impartial Reporter, stating: “Teachers in primary and secondary school need to look for the signs; it’s not just dyslexia. The school was under the impression that I did not want to be in school. If I had been diagnosed earlier I would have had the support of teachers and more understanding. Schools need more training.”

Alex’s story comes in the same week as a report was launched by a UK group of ADHD experts (including the Enniskillen group) who have warned that young people in the UK with ADHD remain at serious risk of social and mental health harm due to complicated delays in diagnosis. 

The report includes input from Consultant Paediatrician at the Lagan Valley Hospital, Dr. Matthew McConkey, who said: “ADHD remains chronically underdiagnosed and access to services and treatment is woefully inconsistent. 

“Long-term solutions must be put in place by the NHS to ensure no child falls through the cracks - this includes improving the patient journey to diagnosis and challenging the stigma prevalent throughout the healthcare community.”