Being overwhelmed by ADHDCaught up in the recent U.S. election, I pondered the impact of Obama’s electoral win on those of us with ADHD. I introduced my discussion in Binders Full of ADHDers, Part I, and discussed the relative merits of spending on tougher crime measurements versus preventative social policies in Binders Full of ADHDers, Part II.

Today, in Part III, I’ll look at ADHD and education. While I don’t have answers, I do want to raise some of the issues we need to consider.

Many research studies show that inadequately diagnosed and treated ADHD has a huge cost on society. In a recent article in Medscape Today News, “ADHD Takes Heavy Economic Toll” by Megan Brooks, Nov. 12, 2012), the overall economic costs of ADHD (in adults and children) is discussed.

The article cites a recent study called Economic Impact of Childhood and Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in the United States, (Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 51, Issue 10, October 2012), which reviews the literature from 1990 to 2011 on the economic impact of ADHD.

According to the Medscape Today News article, the study’s authors are calling for “…the development of public policies to address the burden of the condition [ADHD].”

Given the economic impacts of ADHD, it would stand to reason that treating kids and adults with ADHD would be a benefit to society as a whole.  Perhaps educational policies need to be included if we’re to approach the economic costs of ADHD adequately.

The economy

Post-election the focus is on the economy, both in the U.S. and in Canada. Fair enough; but let’s remember that education levels have an economic impact on society.

In “Inexorably Linked: The correlation between economic status and health” (Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, 2012), James W. Squires, M.D. writes, “Every dropout is another economically unstable individual who faces a tenuous future.”


Research also shows that the high school drop-out rate in kids with ADHD is higher, and overall academic achievement in adults with ADHD is lower. Wouldn’t early intervention in the form of diagnosis and treatment in children with ADHD lead to better academic outcomes? You would think so.

With higher education and well-managed ADHD, you’d think as adults we’d also have a shot at greater economic success (meaning, not only would we be able to hold our jobs, we’d have a chance at successful careers in our chosen fields).

In my own work with adults with ADHD, including a literature review as well as dozens of interviews with adults with ADHD, one of the most striking deciding factors that leads to a positive outcome in adulthood is the role of an ad hoc coach.

The secret ingredient to success

While I haven’t conducted formal research on this, I’ve noticed that there’s a common thread in the adults I’ve interviewed who have financial and career successes in adulthood.

Time and time again, the factor that stand out is that there was an adult, usually a parent, but sometimes a teacher or mentor, who provided early academic intervention and guidance.

Not only did this intervention help the child do better in school; the adults I spoke with also noted that their parent or other adult who worked with them in their developmental years helped them to build their self-confidence; identify and develop their skills; and encouraged them to pursue and excel in an area they were passionate about. In spite of their ADHD, these individuals went on to successful careers and work lives in adulthood.

Policy Development

As someone with ADHD, it’s impossible for me to separate education from the economy from mental health issues.

It would seem to me that the more we invest in developing appropriate academic protocols for children with ADHD, the less the economic impact of ADHD will be in the long-run.

Sure, effective schooling for kids with ADHD (and learning disabilities, which a lot of kids with ADHD also have) isn’t the whole answer. Teaching kids, their teachers, and parents about ADHD and implementing a multi-modal approach to treatment (including building, not destroying, self-esteem) would also be necessary.

But on the education front, how can we encourage policy makers to take a long-range view that seeks to maximize the incredible, yet sadly untapped potential of kids with ADHD?

Those of us who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD as adults know the frustration of not meeting our goals. We know it’s not for lack of trying; not for lack of intelligence or motivation; not for lack of creativity and passion.

According to the Medscape article cited above, it’s us – adults with ADHD, not children – who currently represent the bulk of the economic burdens of ADHD on society.

The impact of not addressing the educational needs of kids with ADHD seems clear: under-educated, under-employed (or unemployed) adults with ADHD.

Perhaps that’s a cost we don’t need to bear.


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