International ADHD Coaching – Part of an Occasional Series

ADHD Coaching in Western Australia

by Susan Macintosh, ACO Member

I am an Australian “Coach” from Western Australia, currently living in Canada and immersed in the world of ADD/HD. We have lived not only in Australia and now North America, but Asia as well so I have a unique perspective of ADD internationally. I am very aware of cultural differences between the continents of North America, Australia, Asia and Europe (including the UK: when my son was an adolescent with ADHD, he lived and worked independently (?) in Europe). I intend though, to focus here on Western Australia and the experience of being diagnosed with ADD.

My early professional background started in the world of Nursing and Allied Health, that led me to coaching “on the side”. My career has spanned Intensive and Coronary Care, Occupational Health, Trainer for Paramedics and in recent years business ownership and a number of Australian Board positions. My focus in life has always been on “wellness” and “preventative health” issues building upon strengths and growing resilience. I personally believe that having ADD and good support structures and access to excellent coaching is a winning combination!

ADD in Australia: ‘Down Under’ but not Down and Out

ADD Coaching in Australia, as is the case in most parts of the world is in its infancy, or not known at all. According to Lilly Pharmaceutical Company clinically diagnosed ADD is found in up to 11% of the Australian population. This may have something to do with the type of person who thought to take on the challenge of emigrating to such a far away and unpopulated continent, where everything does indeed seem “upside down”.

ADD was not widely recognized in Australia until the past ten to fifteen years, except by a few pioneering paediatricians. Fifteen to twenty years ago determining a diagnosis was a challenge to say the least. Involved in the process were (and still are)

  • nurses,
  • developmental speech pathologists,
  • educational psychologists,
  • psychologists,
  • paediatric occupational therapists,
  • teachers and at the end point,
  • the paediatrician.

The paediatrician then took two or more of these other professional reports and along with his own investigation, pronounced a diagnosis.

Psychiatrists Fear Targeting by Extremists

To this day, the pathway to diagnosis is still very similar. More General Medical Practitioners are now aware they are not allowed to diagnose ADD or treat it with medication. Adults then are referred to a Psychiatrist for diagnosis and treatment. In this process it is important to visit with an “ADD friendly” General Practitioner for the referral. And there are few psychiatrists who will willingly admit to treating ADD let alone specializing in ADD.

Unfortunately ADD in Australia, though recognized as a Disorder, is often written about in an unbalanced way by the media, causing a disproportionate amount of hysteria within the general community. Some Church funded groups particularly the Church of Scientology and their lobbyists, actively lobby against ADD and those who treat ADD, causing a volatile environment for those working in the field. Many psychiatrists now just don’t admit to treating ADD to avoid being targeted by extremists. The most balanced commentary is often written and reported by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) on their “Health Watch” programs.

Small community support groups, funded independently by community membership attempt to fill a much needed gap in educating the community about ADD (eg. Government health authorities do their best with support clinics, however cannot keep up with the demand from clients, parents and relatives struggling with day to day issues. Waiting lists are long and it may take six to nine months to get into see a Psychiatrist or Government Clinic. One doesn’t want to miss an appointment!

Australian Medicare for ADD Service

Public support services are limited. Australia has a Government funded health system in place, called “Medicare”. As such, a percentage of medical bills and some medication is paid for or subsidized by the government. Allied health is paid for in part by private health insurance, for those who subscribe. A limited subset of medications for ADD are subsidized by Medicare, however, the variety of medications available on the market is not as comprehensive as that found in the United States, and if the medication in question is not subsidized by Medicare, it can be very expensive to access (unlike the UK, where these medications are fully subsidized).

Funding for Mental Health in Australia

Mental health (on the whole) is not funded well in Australia. Within the Education Department of Western Australia, funding has been slashed for the very Department who supported teachers working with Learning Difficulties, reducing their staff from 20 to 1. However, despite the difficulties, there are ways in which some Australian professionals are ahead of some of their North America colleagues in their approach to ADD. Distance and lack of facilities can be a good birthing ground for resilience. Those who do work in this field are committed to excellence in care and treatment and much needed research. On the whole though, Australia looks to North America for leadership in this field.

As is often the case, the outlook for those who are of good financial means is a much happier story. Self educated ADD specialist speech and language pathologists, wonderful educators, excellent psychologists and educational psychologists are available for support. Some schools lead the way for excellence in ADD education having small class sizes, specialist teachers on hand and programs dedicated to ADD learning styles.

Coaching is a Pioneer Profession

Coaching (or perhaps Consulting is a better term) is supplied by educators, psychologists or nurses who are self taught and well read around ADD. There are very few, perhaps only one or two formally trained ADD specialist coaches in Australia, one of these being an ADDCA graduate. Coaching as a profession is not well known in Australia and may be viewed quite dispassionately by the Australian public or media. So, there is excellent potential for growth for this industry!

Having said that, the work being done by the few ADD Consultants/Coaches available is invaluable and greater support by the international coaching community would be very welcome “down under”.