AS THE mother of 13-year-old twins with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), assistant head teacher Carolyn Lawler is uniquely qualified to support families when a child at her school is diagnosed with the condition
First-hand experience with her daughters has also helped her spot girls with ADHD symptoms and steer families towards a diagnosis. It's estimated that one in 20 children has ADHD and boys are three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed but Carolyn believes this is because it is often not picked up in childhood.
She explains: "It's probably that girls often mask it better and the symptoms are different. Girls tend to be more inattentive and anxious while boys are more boisterous." Yet despite her years of experience with ADHD, both as a teacher and parent, there was one diagnosis she missed entirely - her own.
Carolyn's daughters were diagnosed when they were six but it was another six years before a therapist suggested Carolyn might also have ADHD, who had begun to notice similarities between the twins and her own teenage self but says: "I was adamant I did not have ADHD."
A Quotient computer test, which is used to diagnose the disorder, proved her wrong. The test involved watching a screen as different coloured shapes flashed up in rapid succession and clicking the mouse when a specific shape and colour combination appeared.
She says: "The whole thing takes about 20 minutes and five minutes in I was thinking, 'This isn't too bad'. I am very competitive and I was really concentrating and thinking, 'I am going to beat this programme. However about three-quarters of the way through I completely lost concentration and started singing."
Curiously, her scores picked up at this point, confirming Carolyn's habit of singing when she has to focus on a task.It is a simple but effective coping strategy to manage ADHD.
With hindsight, she can see so many clues. "As a child, I was very able and always in the top set but I did feel different. I was very anxious and worried about how others saw me.I was easily distracted and forever losing my locker key and house key."
Academic success did not come easily. "I really struggled to concentrate and organise my work. If I had to write an essay it was always better to do it straight away, in one go, rather than write something and then go back to it, or forget to finish it."
Yet while she feels passionately about the importance of early diagnosis and the need to break down the stigma surrounding ADHD, the mum-of-four says it brings pluses, too. "I work much better under pressure. In some ways ADHD is a gift. In my job I have to spin a lot of plates and I don't think I could do that if it wasn't for the ADHD. People with ADHD think outside the box and we need that. We need risk-takers and innovators."
The family's experience also shows how much ADHD can differ from individual to individual. One twin, Katie, was prescribed Ritalin - but "it just didn't agree with her," says Carolyn So their paediatrician switched her to atomoxetine, a non-stimulant alternative, which worked well until she entered her teens, when it began to become less effective.
When Sarah was diagnosed six months after Katie, everyone assumed the twins would have the same response to ADHD medicines and she was started on atomoxetine but experienced "horrible" side effects.
Yet she had no problems at all when she was switched to Ritalin, the drug which "just didn't agree" with her twin.
Access to fidget spinners (a spinning toy said to help those who have trouble focusing), advice on nutrition and increased physical activity are some of the measures which have helped the Liverpool school where Carolyn teaches become one of the first in the country to win an ADHD Friendly Schools quality mark.
Since the introduction of ADHD-friendly initiatives, disciplinary sanctions have more than halved, proof that the right support can make a huge difference. "ADHD doesn't have to stop you achieving your potential so long as you have the right strategies in place," says Carolyn.