He might have become a successful auditor and a respected university lecturer, but life at school for Howard Penny, was not easy as a result of his mental condition, ADHD.
‘I was very unmotivated. I’d go sit at the back. I then would inevitably listen for 15 minutes and start chatting to a friend next to me about another topic and inevitably get kicked out of class, over and over again. I ended up getting kicked out for being distractive’, says Howard.
Being restless in class is one of the characteristics of children with ADHD and that earned Howard a bad reputation amongst teachers.
‘Teachers used to drag me down a lot. I used to be ‘that naughty, stupid, lazy child’. Those are three words I heard a hundred times. I just started giving up and became more and more despondent. I was still getting through school and passing from standard six to seven to eight and then in nine, I started failing my core subjects, my Maths, my English (and) my Afrikaans’, said Howard.
Educational psychologist, Jane Jarvis explained why conventional teaching methods were not effective in Howard’s case.
‘They (ADHD children) are very demanding. They often need a lot of repetition or extra attention or re-focusing. So, they take a lot of the teacher’s time, even though they are often a small minority in the class. We are talking about five to seven percent of children having this difficulty’, she said.
Just when Howard thought there would be no end in sight of his misery at school, the intervention of child psychiatrist, Dr David Benn in the year 2000, changed his life.
‘In standard nine, I got in contact with Dr Benn and my life literally took a 360 (degree turn). With help and treatment, I started building confidence’, he says proudly.
Explaining why concentration spans are significantly low in ADHD children, Howard’s psychiatrist Dr Benn said that: ‘In the brain, there is a lot of feed-back on the main mechanisms that focus attention. We think those feed-back mechanisms don’t work properly and often when the medication is taken, it stimulates those feed-back mechanisms’.
Psychologist, Jane Jarvis stresses the importance of parents helping ADHD children build self-esteem, as it starts to erode due to their inability to effectively control and manage behaviour.
‘The only thing that predicts success of an ADHD child is self-esteem. If they truly believe that they are ok and they leave school believing they are ok, they will be ok ‘ they will find the accommodations that they need to help them become successful adults.
But, at the moment too many of them are leaving our school system with low self-esteems, believing that they are lazy, believing that they are naughty, believing that they are never going to amount to anything. This is how they live the rest of their lives and that is very sad to me’, she said.
Howard steadily re-gained self-esteem and the results are obvious where he works.
‘My ADHD is an advantage in my career. It helps my work because I have more energy. I’m more enthusiastic than my peers. My peers describe me as ‘always looking like I’m walking on sunshine’, and for me that’s the ADHD’, said Howard, passionately adding that, ‘continuous change, motivates me’.