A report revealing the “huge financial cost” of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in Australia is calling for more resources and funding for parents who are struggling with the challenges of supporting their children.
ADHD is a neurobiological condition that can affect a person’s ability to pay attention or control impulsive behaviour.
For some kids, that can present as risky or disruptive behaviour. For others, it means they’re simply unable to focus on certain tasks and struggle to keep up with the workload.
It is estimated that 800,000 people in Australia live with ADHD, but it’s impossible to know for sure because often it goes undiagnosed.
ADHD Australia conducted the largest survey of its kind last year, and for the 1,616 people it asked, there were three key areas to tackle — managing the financial burden of ADHD, helping schools understand the condition, and dealing with the stigma.
The report, which has been handed to federal and state ministers, reveals that almost three-quarters of all parents surveyed felt schooling their child was the biggest challenge.
“The school system, both public and private, have never provided support. I had to pay to have a support teacher in class,” said one participant of the survey, whose child is now in Year 11.
Kammeron Cran, a mother to a child with ADHD, believes children are often punished at school because of their condition.
“Punishing a child for something they cannot control is damaging,” she said.
“It affects self-esteem and sends a message to other children that being different is wrong.
How much is ADHD costing carers and families?
Another big issue for families is of course the financial cost of therapies, medication and other expenses.
On average, carers are spending $5,543.69 annually, the report reveals — and that goes up considerably if more than one child from a family is diagnosed.
But despite this cost, only 1 in 20 parents of kids with ADHD said they had received any funding for issues related to their child.
The problem, as ADHD Australia chair Michael Kohn explains, is that it’s not seen as a “primary disorder”, meaning it is not funded through the NDIS.
Professor Kohn, who also heads the paediatrics unit at Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney, says this is despite ADHD being acknowledged as a disability by the educational, legal and medical communities.
Bree, who lives in Wollongong with her eight-year-old daughter Sienna, is one of the many parents caring for a child with ADHD and navigating the financial challenges that come with that.
While she’s so far managing the cost of medication, developmental paediatricians and behavioural therapies, she’s aware that not everyone is as fortunate.
“I work in child protection and lots of the children do have some additional needs and 100 per cent of the families can’t afford the therapies. So the children don’t access them,” she explained.
Tackling misconceptions and myths
Perhaps the least tangible concern for those living with ADHD is the stigma surrounding the diagnosis — the result of a lack of understanding and awareness by others of what it means to have the condition.
Professor Kohn says the survey confirms the need for people living with ADHD — who often excel in areas requiring creativity, spontaneity and imagination — to “be more fully understood”.
“We need to cultivate environments where people feel comfortable seeking a diagnosis and treatment… and environments that allow them to bring their strengths into play. Everyone benefits,” he added.
Bree feels her daughter’s school has been surprisingly supportive since her child’s diagnosis in November last year. What she struggles with the most is the everyday stigma.
As she’s discovered, people just don’t seem to get it.
“My daughter is beautiful, she’s kind, she’s caring, she’s social, she’s helpful and compliant and she has ADHD. And we wouldn’t change her for the world.
“We want her to be proud of who she is, and not let society bring her down.”