By Lukeman Amin

Are you that parent? Are you that teacher? Were you that student? Were you that friend? Educate yourself now!

Growing up in Nigeria, our parents always made us understand that the key to success was and still is education. We were taught to listen attentively in class, ask questions when we could not comprehend, do all assignments without failure, and make sure to have good grades at the end of terms and sessions. 

We were made to believe that it was mostly bad and overly playful children that came last in class and always had problems with teachers. Our parents taught us to dissociate ourselves from such children as they could be bad influence on us. 

We all know that particular kid in class who always comes last, never seems to pay attention, always has problems answering and asking questions. This particular kid or group of kids were usually referred to as the “the back benchers”. No matter how much they were taught, they never seemed to learn. They always looked lost in class! The teachers always asked other students to shame them whenever they failed, sometimes they were beaten mercilessly. 

The nice teachers would ask that they sit in front or close to the intelligent students so as to learn from them, but no matter the measures taken, they always seemed unable to cope. We started to think it had to be spiritual! Or in Nigerian parlance, “their people dey follow dem from village.”

We didn’t want to be friends with such students because we didn’t understand them. Some of them ended up dropping out of school, some of them were never heard of again. Whatever happened to those kids? Why couldn’t they just be like the rest? Why were they so different?

Could it be because they had ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental illness that affects mostly children however, adults are not exempted. The American Psychiatric Association states that it is the most common mental illness affecting children.

This illness predominantly exists in three stages which include inattention (inability to concentrate), hyperactivity (abnormal or extreme activeness) and impulsiveness (hasty decisions without thought). They also note that 8.4 percent of children have ADHD and 2.5 percent of adults are affected by it. However, it is mostly discovered in children of school age when it constitutes an impediment in their school activities.

Scientists have not been able to come up with any lab test diagnosis of the illness and the only existing mode of diagnosis is by information gathered by parents and teachers as well as sight and audio tests to make sure its not caused by other illnesses. There is no proven cause of the illness however genetics is said to play a vital role as 3 out of 4 children were proven to have a relative with the disorder. Other prompting factors include premature birth, brain damage and alcohol consumption, smoking and severe stress during pregnancy. 

There are about 1.5 million cases in Nigeria alone per year according to the University of Ibadan College of Medicine with a 2:1 ratio in boys versus girls, based on a study carried out in South-eastern Nigeria. The ailment, if not properly managed, can also extend to adulthood. The stigma accompanied with such illness has led to cases of low self esteem among these children as well as depression. 

Nigerian attitude towards mental illnesses generally is a poor one. As the saying goes, “people fear what they do not understand”. The high level of mis-information in this part of the world has done a great deal of harm to the country. 

Now, not all cases of learning impairment are linked to ADHD but at least, a good number of cases are recorded annually. Other forms of mental illnesses could also be causative factors. Therefore, educational institutions need to be enlightened on the effects of ADHD and other mental illnesses that could constitute impediments in learning, rather than segregation due to “fear of the unknown.” 

A question was asked at the beginning of this article, regarding the fate of such children now. The answer is that no one really knows. A good number of them could be hawking on the streets, have become nuisance to the society or maybe even committed suicide due to constant stigmatization and depression. 

When a child is having difficulty at school, it is the duty of the parents to conduct an investigation as there are chances it could be a medical condition rather than our primitive routine of beating the child mercilessly, asking the teacher to do so or going to religious leaders for deliverance. We all have a role to play in this.

Educate your children as well as yourselves to be more receptive and accommodating rather than segregate. Excessive punitive penalties at schools should also be banned; children need to be taught to express themselves freely among their teachers and not fear them. More so, a general parent-teacher- child reorientation needs to be carried out in Nigerian schools while all primary caregivers to children should be trained to recognize such learning defects and be able to distinguish between when these kids have a disorder or when they are being overly playful or unserious.