“Only 16% of adults with autism are in full time paid work. Of those surveyed, over three quarters (77%) say that they want to work.” (1)
“A high percentage of people with ADHD are likely to experience difficulty at work including regular loss of employment. ADHD affects 5% of children and nearly 3% of adults. The effect of inadequate support for those with ADHD across society including health, education, criminal justice, work and benefits,homelessness and social care is vast and little understood or discussed, let alone addressed.” (2)
“For some people, dyslexia can present a serious obstacle to finding a job. A bad experience in education may have left individuals lacking in confidence and self-esteem, or they may find that problems with reading and writing can make it difficult to apply for jobs that would otherwise be a good fit for their skills.” (3)
“People who are dyslexic are five times more likely to be unemployed than those who are not.” (3)
As you might expect from your average Guardian reading, Radio 4 and Guilty Feminist podcast listening bleeding heart liberal, I find this information unbearably sad because (and I’m shouting for those at the back) NEURODIVERGENT PEOPLE HAVE AS MANY SKILLS, TALENTS AND ABILITIES AS THE REST OF US, THEY JUST SOMETIMES NEED A BIT MORE SUPPORT TO ILLUSTRATE THEM.
Anyway… in addition to this struggle, we also know that diagnoses for many of these conditions seem devastatingly challenging to come by, and the complications arising from this state of affairs are astronomical. If though, for example you are not of the bleeding heart liberal persuasion described above, why should you care?
Well principally, because it is eye wateringly expensive. Just a tiny insight into the scale of the public cost, is the prevalence of people with ADHD to be found in the prisons of England and Wales. Research has found that whilst ADHD is thought to affect only 3-4% of the general adult population (4), whereas ADHD Action believe that 30% of people in UK prisons are thought to have the condition, and some (including me) are calling for the introduction of mandatory ADHD tests for anyone who commits an ‘impulsive crime’ (5)
According to the House of Common’s Library briefing paper ‘UK Prison Populations Statistics’ (6):
• “The average direct cost per prisoner in was £26,133 but taking into account all resource expenditure the overall cost per prisoner was £39,385.31
• The average direct cost per prison place in was £28,088 but taking into account all resource expenditure the overall cost per place was £39,922.”
I will be writing about the welfare of prisoners more generally in due course, but for the time being I’m sticking with our ADHD friends, diagnosed or otherwise, and for the sake of full transparency I’ve included the full list of systems as defined by the Mayo Clinic (7) below:
- Disorganization and problems prioritizing
- Poor time management skills
- Problems focusing on a task
- Trouble multitasking
- Excessive activity or restlessness
- Poor planning
- Low frustration tolerance
- Frequent mood swings
- Problems following through and completing tasks
- Hot temper
- Trouble coping with stress
This list does not to me, sound like a group of people who will react well to life in prison.
It would also be extremely remiss of me not to mention the extreme prevalence of self harm and suicide in prisons and the ADHD community, and given the information I’ve shared here, it seems like that’s probably not a coincidence. Whilst anecdotal, it is also often noted that people with ADHD often feel trapped in their day to day lives, so the psychological implications of prison for these individuals will often be simply intolerable, and be a significant factor in their decisions to end their own lives.
In addition to the above, it is well documented that ADHD is also linked to (5):
- Poor school or work performance
- Financial problems
- Trouble with the law (I told you so)
- Alcohol or other substance misuse
- Frequent car accidents or other accidents
- Unstable relationships
- Poor physical and mental health
- Poor self-image
- Suicide attempts
As if this wasn’t enough… people living with ADHD often also suffer from the following (5):
- “Mood disorders. Many adults with ADHD also have depression, bipolar disorder or another mood disorder. While mood problems aren’t necessarily due directly to ADHD, a repeated pattern of failures and frustrations due to ADHD can worsen depression.
- Anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders occur fairly often in adults with ADHD. Anxiety disorders may cause overwhelming worry, nervousness and other symptoms. Anxiety can be made worse by the challenges and setbacks caused by ADHD.
- Other psychiatric disorders. Adults with ADHD are at increased risk of other psychiatric disorders, such as personality disorders, intermittent explosive disorder and substance use disorders.
- Learning disabilities. Adults with ADHD may score lower on academic testing than would be expected for their age, intelligence and education. Learning disabilities can include problems with understanding and communicating.”
So we all know that we shouldn’t commit crimes… but looking at all of this, we can see that an enhanced tendency towards criminal behaviour is absolutely one of ‘symptoms’ of this condition. This is not an all-encompassing criticism of the UK’s prison system (watch this space), but simply a request that we remember that before our ADHD prisoners were prisoners, they were people. They were and are our children, our siblings, our lovers and our friends.
Also critical to note is that the socio-economic status of these individuals and their families is crucial. Middle and upper class families much more frequently have the resources to protect their people, whilst poorer families do not, and whilst the individual circumstances may differ, the heartbreak does not.
Just an FYI- whilst the majority of people we know have ADHD are male, this is at least partly because the majority (and there’s not that much anyway) of research in the space has been focused on men and boys and not girls and women. This is typical, but I’ll save my patriarchy speech for another day and just mention here that (obviously) women and girls also have ADHD, it just may not present in quite the same ways.
The purpose of this post is simple, we need to understand this condition better, we need to get people diagnosed and we need to get them treated. Because they need our help, it is in our power to help them, and doing so may change the trajectories of their lives.
An early ADHD diagnosis is advantageous but it can be transformative at any age, so if any of this sounds like you or anyone you know, please seek help at:
The ADHD Foundation: https://www.adhdfoundation.org.uk/
The UK ADHD Partnership: https://www.ukadhd.com/support-groups.htm
The National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service (ADDISS) http://www.addiss.co.uk/
Additional Information: https://www.itv.com/thismorning/articles/adhd-helplines
1) Autism Employment Gap Report, National Autistic Society, 27th October 2016
2) ‘ADHD in the Workplace’ Unison: the Public Service Union Conference 6th July 2018
3) British Dyslexia Association
6) House of Commons Library Briefing Paper Number CBP-04334, 3 July 2020 (https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN04334/SN04334.pdf)