Yesterday, a study on autism and ADHD, commissioned by the Parliament of Malta and conducted by the University of Malta Social Wellbeing, was published. In this report, there are many points that were raised that I have been speaking about on this channel and in my talks and workshops.
To be honest, the report shined a light on a national level, but on a global comparison, this is not new information, particularly for us in the Neurodiversity community. There are a couple of good things to come out of this report. So let’s examine them :
Key takeaways 1
‘’Culture shift to take place, which considers both autism and ADHD as an “accepted part of normality,” rather than focus on the conditions as an impairment or deficit.’’
To be followed by a call for an ‘’awareness campaign’’
This is hugely important! Moving away from the medical model, which looks at what is wrong with a person and how to treat them and calls for recognition of the social model.
In other words, there is nothing wrong with us Neurodivergent. We just think and perform differently and it is about creating the right environments where we can thrive and reach our potential.
Without a doubt, an ’awareness campaign’ is needed to start the conversation and to advocate for change in society’s mindset and as well to make them aware of their conscious, unconscious and confirmations biases. This is particularly important in the business community and among managers.
Trouble with diagnosis
Key takeaways 2
The trouble with access getting a diagnosis and adults being miss diagnosed results in improper medication
Participants mentioned difficulties in getting a diagnosis; moreover, adults frequently reported being misdiagnosed and prescribed unnecessary antidepressants
Current diagnoses are set for children, not adults
Lack of awareness of gender differences
Services geared towards children, not teens or adults
The above statements, as stated earlier, are not surprising. I remember 4 years ago when I was in a very difficult work situation and went looking for support. I called around every counselling business that specialised in one type of Neurodivergent or another and all of them gave me the same answer. They either don’t support adults or they can give me diagnoses, but not after support.
So, what’s the point of giving half of the support and not the other half, which is equally so important? This is so incredibly frustrating and leaves people suffering and quite often suffering in silence.
There is more to be said and will come back to this in a moment. I did find a councillor who had a background in learning disabilities and was willing to meet with me. When I presented my physical report from school back in Canada, she suggest I get tested for Dyslexia. This was new to me as no one, back in school, ever pointed that out. So I went to get tested. When I got my results she was keen to point out that the test was limited as it only went up to age 14.
“So unprepared do local services appear to be for older autistic individuals or those with ADHD that participants who reached out for support reported having their needs belittled or not acknowledged by the service providers, even after they had been given a diagnosis”
Part of the problem is both cultural and mental attitudes, ADHD, autism and other neurodiversities have been viewed as childhood adversities. There had been no foresight and recognition that children grow up to become adults and the conditions don’t go away. Even more so, because of this long-standing viewpoint, all the research and tools have been developed for children. There has been no effort to do the same for developing support for teens/adults or how to adapt the current resource towards older groups.
I would also argue that there is a huge misconception about the attitudes put on the concept of adulthood; which is because a person who is over 18 or 30+ years of age, then they must be fully capable of figuring things out on their own as this is what it means to be an adult…really? If that was the case, there would be no need for mental health specialist or coaches or consultants.
People need guidance, particularly when they have been viewing life from a narrow, unaware viewpoint which has sent their lives into turmoil. They need that support and guidance to fill in those missing puzzle pieces and aid in developing a new compass which aids them to move forward.
Well, once again, this is not new information, and it is not believed females are underdiagnosed. It is a fact. For the last two years, there have been sufficient studies to support this statement. They estimate that over 73% of females are underdiagnosed.
Why is this the case and how did it happen? For starters, young boys are more external in their symptoms or behaviours, while younger girls tend to be more internal. As well, symptoms or behaviours appear differently in females than males. More so, research is indicating that signs of ADHD may appear later for females than boys. Let us not forget there are differences towards females’ vs male body goes through change which affect their ADHD.
To be honest, if you think about it, it is quite ridiculous that 50% of the world’s population is ignored. Part of the reason for this is that the majority of the practitioners conducting research and therapy are males. So when you have been looking through a homogeneous lens, it is no surprise that other types of prototypes are ignored
“So unprepared do local services appear to be for older autistic individuals or those with ADHD that participants who reached out for support reported having their needs belittled or not acknowledged by the service providers, even after they had been given a diagnosis,” the authors observe.
It is shameful that in the medical community such behaviour exists and in it is discrimination toward the Neurodiversity community. What happened to do no harm? These individuals have struggled for years in not knowing that they were ADHD or Autistic. From time of school, family, friends and workplace, they have been criticized for behaviour or work ethic, resulting in poor self-esteem and the development of mental health issues.
Without a doubt, the medical community must do better as this discrimination of the Neurodiversity community and it leaves them vulnerable
Not able to afford a diagnosis and after support
It is a shame that the study did not explore the economic impact that falls on neurodivergents. There are a number of things to be explored on this topic, but for this post, I will just touch on two of them.
The first is that if you are a family with children and with bills to pay, getting a diagnosis and getting support become a tremendous burden to the family. It becomes a struggle about what to pay for or what to delay or not be able to go on vacation. The family and the child in need suffer.
The second is for those professional adults, who struggle with maintaining or finding work. Many have huge job gaps which are frowned upon by employers or hiring managers. Or, they are in a job where they have been denied advancement and/or a pay raise all because they struggle with ADHD, Autism and other Neurodiversity.
There is another side: they could be successful in the jobs but struggle internally, spending a lot of energy masking and overcompensating and putting the focus on other mental health needs.
‘’Among other things, this impacts their employment prospects, including during the recruitment process; various recommendations highlight the need to help employers and prospective workers alike.’’
Lack of awareness in the workplace
Well, this has been my message for the last two years. As one who suffered from difficult managers and employers, there is without a doubt a need for more awareness and training in the workplace. This is why I started my consultancy business to assist and guide businesses to becoming more inclusive, to up-level the skill managers and create psychological safe work environments where human potential is not wasted.
A Call for Dedicated Clinics
This is a good start in the right direction. Dedicated clinics with properly trained practitioners who can diagnose and provide after support will be welcomed without a doubt. There will be a need for sufficient resources, as currently there is a backlog of people on the waiting list and as awareness increases with better understanding, there will be an increase of people seeking diagnoses and support.
Even more so, the clinics will need to prepare to grow for testing and support for other types of Neurodiversity such as Dyslexia, Development language disorder, Development coordination disorder and others who will be seeking adequate support.
ADHD, Autism and other Neurodiversity are different brains that have been ignored and ostracized for how we think and perform differently, resulting in much suffering. The rise of the Neurodiversity movement is to create equality and remove the stigma that develops over the decades.
My hope is that this Maltese study will get meaningful results in a more fast proactive direction, which will bring much-needed cultural change for many Neurodivergent’s.