Thu | Aug 6, 2020

Falling through the cracks | Moms fear that children with mental disorder are being ignored

Published:Sunday | September 15, 2019 | 12:19 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter

When *Patrice Bryan read the story highlighting the plight of a mother whose 15-year-old son was shot five times by the police on Emancipation Day in downtown Kingston, she cringed.

Although she lives across the seas in the United States, the story touched close to home because her 16-year-old Jamaican son was arrested earlier this year, and like the teen in the story, he too has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Bryan has come across other frustrated mothers who share her belief that there is not much attention being paid to children with ADHD in Jamaica. With a chronic shortage of child psychiatrist and psychologist in the public sector, and overworked teachers focused on sticking to their curriculum, she fears many children with this disorder are just falling through the cracks.

“The schools are not equipped to deal with this situation. They put my son to the back, because they say my son is disruptive, he doesn’t listen and he talks a lot in class. But those are the symptoms of the sickness, and nobody takes the time out to find out what is going on,” she lamented.

ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in children and is caused by a difference in brain development and brain activity. Children with ADHD tend to be very hyperactive and often find it challenging to control their impulses and attention span.


“This thing, the ADHD, it is not talked about, it is swept under the rug,” Bryan shared with The Sunday Gleaner.

She feels her son’s condition was worsened by his exposure to the constant abuse she experienced at the hands of his father, who is a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). After suffering physical and verbal abuse for more than 10 years, Bryan fled to the United States.

“At 11 years old, his father and I were in an argument and his father ran out of the bathroom and boxed me, and my son grabbed him and fling him in the door and said ‘don’t you ever put your hand on my mommy again’,” she recalled.

Now five years after, her son was arrested because he destroyed his father’s furniture. Prior to his arrest, she said her numerous efforts to get help for him proved futile. It was during this time that she realised that several other Jamaican mothers were suffering a similar fate.

“I took him to the CDA (now the Child Protection and Family Services Agency) and the CDA recommended that I carry him to see a psychologist. You know that I called more than 10 places and never got through to one child psychologist?” she shared in amazement.

“For the government services, the phone rings unanswered and when they answer, they are very unprofessional. I called one place and the girl put me on hold and she never came back.”

Bryan said her son was eventually diagnosed with ADHD by someone at the JCF Medical Services Branch.


…Exposure to violence a key contributing factor

A recent study looking at the prevalence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) among four to 15 year years old in Jamaica by consultant clinical psychologist Dr Audrey Pottinger, found that students in urban schools, particularly those in inner-city communities, were more likely to be rated as having ADHD symptoms.

“Exposure to violence was identified as a key contributing factor why students in inner-city schools were more likely to have ADHD symptoms. Medical factors associated with symptom presentation were not strong, with only maternal stress during pregnancy being associated with ADHD symptoms,” Pottinger found.

The study was conducted in 2010 and was commissioned by McCam Child Development and Resource Centre. It was primarily aimed at determining the prevalence of ADHD in Jamaican children using a purposive sample of 243 students from pre-school to the secondary level across the island. Almost a quarter of the sample or approximately 20 per cent had significantly high symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity, as reported by either parent or teacher.

“Children with ADHD symptoms were also more likely to be in families where there was excessive family conflict, aggressive outbursts among family members and to be physically or emotionally abused,” the study stated.

“We also found these students to be more likely held back in class, suspended from school and their parents called in for special conferencing.”

Founding director of the McCam Child Development Centre, Pauline Watson-Campbell, believes that children with ADHD are not being given the necessary attention in Jamaica.

“The focus has changed in a lot of ways, looking now at the autism spectrum disorder, so they are kind of being left out in the cold now, I suspect, especially in terms of what is happening with them in the school system,” she said.


Watson-Campbell, who is a paediatric occupational therapist and an educational psychologist, added, “What happens I think is that with teachers on a whole, if they are going to talk about making accommodations, they will mostly make it for a child who has a learning disability, but when you put extreme behaviours in the picture, it really changes the scenario where they are concerned. So a lot of them are really not happy about having ADHD children in their classes.”

The McCam Centre had an ADHD support group in the past, but that is no longer the case, because a number of the persons who used to assist in maintaining the group migrated or are inactive for other reasons.

Last year, the centre hosted a round-table discussion which was attended by individuals in the health and education sector. The consensus was that a better intervention plan was needed by the Ministry of Education so that children who are diagnosed with the mental disorder can get more support.

“The whole thing of behavioural intervention is high on the list with these children. They have to learn how to inhibit, how to plan, how to organise – all of these things is a learnt behaviour,” noted Watson-Campbell.

[*Name changed to protect identity]