‘Heartbreaking’ Senate report recommends a national ADHD framework

By Lyndal Byford, the Australian Science Media Centre

Around one in 20 Australians are estimated to have ADHD, but a Senate committee has found that Australia lacks ADHD services and support, leaving people with long wait times and high costs, and in some cases, as much as $5000 for an ADHD assessment.

A Senate comittee reported this week on new ways to deal with ADHD. Among its recommendations was that the Australian Government work with people with the condition and consider developing a National Framework for ADHD. 

“Whole-of-society efforts are required to improve this situation, including more research, better training of clinicians, and better accommodation of people with ADHD and other neurodiversity in education and workplaces,” says Associate Professor Oliver Schubert from the University of Adelaide.

“These efforts will relieve hidden suffering, save money in the long run, and unlock the potential of neurodiverse people within the economy.”

The committee received hundreds of submissions from people with ADHD, including many who have not been able to access the healthcare and support.

“Receiving an ADHD diagnosis has been life-changing,” said one submitter, while at the same time lamenting the missed opportunities and “how different my life could have been if I had received a diagnosis as a teenager.”

The inclusion of people with lived experience of ADHD in both the report and the reforms was welcomed as “a move in the right direction” by Louise Brown from Curtin University in her role as Lived-experience Director with the Australian ADHD Professionals Associations.

“Although heartbreaking to read, it’s very reassuring that the Senate Enquiry report included the voices of people with ADHD and their families.”

The report included 15 recommendations, which Professor Dave Coghill from the University of Melbourne said would “go a long way towards improving the lives of those with ADHD.” 

“The recommendations focus on improving access to services and quality of care for ADHD in Australia and making sure that, through realignment of the Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, this care is accessible to those who are least able to pay.”

Coghill is President of the Australian ADHD Professionals Association, which last year produced a clinical practice guideline for ADHD which the inquiry has now recommended all levels of government invest in implementing.

ADHD new clinical guidelines

However, not all experts agreed that adoption of the guideline would be a positive move, with Professor Jon Jureidini from the University of Adelaide warning this could lead to “many people being diagnosed and treated for ADHD with uncertain benefits and possible serious harm.”

One potential harm he highlighted was that attributing distress and dysfunction to ADHD might mean that other explanations such as language disorder, or family violence are missed. Professor Jureidini made submissions to the committee on behalf of the Critical Psychiatry Network, an organisation that is a critic of mainstream psychiatry, and challenges claims about the nature and causes of mental disorder and the effects of psychiatric intervention.

The Australian ADHD Professionals Association said that the guideline has already been approved by the NHMRC and endorsed by a host of organisations including the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Speech Pathology Australia, Occupational Therapy Australia, the Australian Clinical Psychology Association, and the World Federation of ADHD.

The Federal Government has until February 2024 to respond to the report.

This article originally appeared in Science Deadline, a weekly newsletter from the AusSMC.

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