ADHD Australia responds to Four Corners ‘The Kids Who Can’t’ that shines a light on the struggles of ADHD students

Kids and ADHD

The ABC’s recent Four Corners ‘The Kids Who Can’t’ documentary revealed the struggles of children ‘refusing’ to attend school, and the impact on their families.

As the documentary points out, school refusal can be interpreted as truancy or an unjustified absence. However, this is a complex issue that impacts many children with ADHD.

The word ‘refusal’ implies these children ‘won’t’ go to school, whereas realistically they ‘can’t’. Many children with ADHD and intellectual disability will struggle in the school environment, which can cause severe stress and anxiety.

ADHD Australia Advisory Board Member and education expert, Dr Karl Sebire, says while school refusal is not new, there has been a marked increase in children unable to attend school post-COVID.

“Many children went through key developmental stages during that time, removed from the social interactions and routines of a normal school day,” Dr Sebire said. “A return to normal school life has been a challenge too great for some children to overcome.”

“We hope to see school leaders, teachers, and support staff trained to make school a safe space,” Dr Sebire said. “To support these vulnerable students, schools must work with families to develop realistic and empathetic return-to-school plans.”

“Teachers must take an empathy-based approach to help students and their families. The partnership between parents and teachers must be informed by compassion and understanding,” said Dr Sebire.

ADHD Australia CEO, Melissa Webster, says this documentary is just the tip of the iceberg and calls for an urgent focus on inclusion in education.

“Every student deserves equitable access to education. We need to better equip schools to understand and accommodate the diverse needs of students with ADHD,” Ms Webster said.

“This includes dismantling the stigma associated with ADHD by providing educators, peers, and the broader community better information and understanding.”

“In our submission to the Senate Inquiry, we called for greater advocacy, research, education, and training across the education sector that is underpinned by a solid policy framework,” said Ms Webster.

As the nation’s leading ADHD advocacy organisation, ADHD Australia was a key contributor to the Senate inquiry into barriers to consistent, timely and best practice assessment of ADHD and support services for people with ADHD.

The Senate Inquiry’s Final Report, released in November 2023, made 15 recommendations, including increased professional training to meet the needs of students with ADHD.

ADHD Australia calls on the Australian Government to urgently respond to all recommendations of the Senate Inquiry to start addressing the systemic barriers facing children and adults with ADHD and their families.