Understanding ADHD: UAE researchers seek to understand a condition often confused with 'naughtiness'

'Teachers are becoming much better at recognising if a child has a difficulty, rather than just being naughty,' says child psychologist Dr Haneen Jarrar

A year-long research study into ADHD will take place in schools to get a greater understanding of the mental health disorder. Behrouz Mehri / AFP
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Children with mental health disorders will be evaluated in a nationwide research programme to improve care in schools and increase understanding among teachers.

Research is under way by the Ministry of Health and Prevention to create new care solutions for children with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Children with ADHD often have problems paying attention in class, fidgeting with hands and feet and struggling to complete assigned work.

Symptoms can be difficult to diagnose, with children often passed off as naughty, rather than accepted as having a mental disorder.

The ministry launched a research agenda for 2018-19 to glean a greater understanding of the impact of ADHD in schools, and how teachers can be better educated to spot the signs.

“Research like this was started in the UK 50 years ago, so it is something that is needed to get an accurate reflection of ADHD in the UAE,” said Dr Haneen Jarrar, a child psychologist at the Camali Clinic in Dubai.

“Schools in general are becoming better at realising these children need help but things can always improve.”

Studies aim to determine how common ADHD is in the UAE and how accurately the condition is diagnosed by physicians.

Three research projects began this year and will run until the end of 2019, with specialists, physicians, and researchers collaborating with Al Amal Hospital and the Ministry's Statistics and Research Centre.

“To improve mental health services, the agenda seeks to provide solutions that can detect mental disorders at an early stage,” said Dr Youssef Al Serkal, assistant undersecretary for the ministry’s hospitals sector.

“We will aim to update our statistical databases and promote scientific research through diagnostic surveys and providing care based on best clinical practices.”

Dr Al Serkal said any research carried out would ensure the privacy of child patients and their families.

ADHD occurs when the frontal lobe of the brain that is responsible for planning impulse control and emotional relations is under developed.

About 3-5 per cent of American children are thought to have ADHD, although exact numbers of how many children in the UAE may have the disorder are not available.


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“This research will ensure more patients are identified and treated, enabling them to lead as fulfilling and inclusive lives as possible,” said Dr Walid Abdul-Hamid, psychiatrist and clinical director, at the Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai.

“Research has shown children are more at risk of developing ADHD if they have relatives — such as a parent or a sibling — with ADHD or another mental health disorder.”

ADHD is a long-term mental health problem that usually starts in childhood and can continue into adulthood.

At least 25 per cent of children with ADHD will still have symptoms by the age of 30.

Its effects are far-reaching and can negatively impact relationships, work and school performance, in turn leading to low self-esteem and feelings of failure.

Medication can decrease hyperactivity and increase attention.

Ritalin and Dexedrine are common drugs prescribed by doctors, but users have reported side effects including anxiety, insomnia and mild depression.

Speech therapy, occupational therapy and learning support are also offered to children diagnosed with ADHD at the Camali Clinic.

“Currently, a child will be referred to us by the school rather than a GP,” said Dr Jarrar.

“This usually happens when a child is not learning in school, or has problems with attention or aggression.

“We will do an assessment to see if the child’s functioning is affected and may require medication or another course of therapy.”

Medication is closely monitored to ensure a child is not being given too much, or too little dosage and to ensure side effects are not outweighing the benefits.

Results of the nationwide research will be publicly available on the ministry’s website when the work concludes.

“ADHD can be managed and lived with, and should not become a major issue if treated correctly,” Dr Jarrar said.

“We need to teach a child how to function in a school and society.

“Teachers are becoming much better at recognising if a child has a difficulty, rather than just being naughty.”