Jannine Harris was only 10 years old when her parents realised they couldn’t cope with her.
The youngster came home one afternoon to find her mum and stepdad brandishing a letter from the school which read, ‘It has come to our attention that Jannine has cheated on her end-of-year report. Please will you attend a meeting to discuss her behaviour.’
Scared, Jannine tried to explain.
‘Weeks earlier, someone had joked about how easy it would be to change a C to an A. I did it on impulse and got a rush, so I did another one. By the third one I knew it was wrong and I regretted it, but there was nothing I could do.’
Jannine insisted that she never meant to cheat, but the school called her a liar and her parents agreed with them, leading to social services being called in.
‘I was always inattentive as a child, but by the time I got to nine I was increasingly wayward,’ admitted Jannine. ‘My days started with my mum Ann shouting at me to get up and get ready, but that meant nothing.
‘I was always forgetting my PE kit – or maybe I’d leave with it, but then put it down to stroke a cat and forget to pick it up. I daydreamed in class and went missing for hours because I’d lose track of time.’
She didn’t fit in at school, and Jannine was very badly bullied. She also began shoplifting.
‘I was always getting on the wrong side of people, but never understood the way I behaved was different to others. I remember shopping with Mum and asking if I could have some hair clips.
‘When she said no, I pocketed them anyway. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t stop myself. Things like this were always happening.’
The incident over the school report was the beginning of a downward spiral for Jannine. Nobody really understood what was going on with the school pupil – not the social workers and definitely not her mum or her stepdad Fred.
‘Social services felt it must be something to do with my absent father,’ explains Jannine. ‘So I ended up shuttling between my dad’s home and my mum’s, where I lived with my brother and stepsister. I felt very different to them.’
At 14, Jannine’s parents felt they had no choice but to put her into care, they didn’t know how to deal with the teenager.
‘We never lost touch, but the children’s home was isolating and no one understood me. I did badly at school – not because I wasn’t intelligent, but because I couldn’t concentrate. I wasn’t doing anything bad, but I wasn’t doing anything constructive either. I was definitely a danger to myself.’
At 18, Jannine left care and was on her own with no support. She had some bar jobs, but no permanent place to live, so she sofa-surfed and even slept rough a few times.
‘I remember one day it was raining heavily and my shoes were soaked, so I went into BHS, put my wet shoes on the shelf, chose a new pair and walked out in them. I didn’t mean to steal, but to me it made sense.’
The police were called to the store and, luckily for Jannine, they saw the act as vulnerability, not criminality. They contacted a charity for vulnerable young adults.
‘That night I had a warm bed in a hostel. I ended up staying for weeks and, with the help of the charity workers, I got a job as a waitress with accommodation included and slowly started to rebuild my life.’
Aged 19, Jannine met a man, got married and had a baby, Vicki. But the relationship didn’t last, they were too young and it couldn’t survive Jannine’s ‘differences’ – so she was a divorced single mum by the time she was 21.
Health workers started to pick up that Vicki was different by the time she was about three. She didn’t make eye contact and her understanding of things was very literal.
When she was eight, in 2001, Vicki was diagnosed with Asperger’s. Jannine knew nothing about it, but was determined to find out more.
By this time, the young mum was in another relationship and the following year, in 2002, her twins Will and Becca were born. But three years later that relationship broke down too.
‘I found myself alone again, this time with two toddlers plus Vicki, who was becoming difficult to manage. She was bullied at school and wouldn’t go out alone.’
Jannine gave up the recruitment business she had with her former partner to become a special needs teaching assistant. That meant she had more time for the kids. In 2012, she met Stuart, 56, who she is now happily married to.
‘I was still struggling with my attention issues, but felt I was starting to get to grips with life with Stuart’s help,’ says Jannine. ‘However, I couldn’t go on like that with Vicki and when she was 19 I went to the GP and said, “I’m her mum but I cannot do this for the rest of my life”.’
When Vicki was assessed and found to have ADHD, Jannine didn’t really believe in it, but the doctors persuaded her to try her on a stimulant drug called methylphenidate.
‘It was like turning a key in a lock. She went from almost failing at college to thriving. Both our relationship and my understanding of her improved and, in understanding her, it became apparent that my son Will, who was struggling at school, probably had ADHD too.’
Will got his diagnosis in 2014 and, shortly afterwards, the doctor persuaded Jannine to be tested too. She was finally diagnosed that year with ADHD and autistic traits, while Becca was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety a year ago.
‘The condition is highly inheritable. My mum, who I’m still close to, also has autistic traits. My dad isn’t with us any more, but I suspect it exists on both sides of my family,’ says Jannine.
Instead of letting the family diagnoses set her or her children back, Jannine made it her mission in life to help others with the same condition, knowing that her own life would have been so much easier had she herself been diagnosed as a child.
In 2015 she qualified as a specialised teacher working with students with ADHD and autism.
‘Now I teach literacy and I’m also a coach, supporting families of children with the conditions. I have strategies to cope with my own condition. I live by timers and diaries and the Amazon Alexa service is my saviour. I do drop balls sometimes, but I’m open with people that I have ADHD.
‘I refer to people like me as being like bruised apples because I was told all sorts of things growing up and that hurt me. But now I’m able to be me, those bruises don’t get nudged so much. I am so happy to think I can help others like me now.’
– Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that shows symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. In the UK, it’s thought that between two and five per cent of schoolchildren and up to four per cent of adults have the condition.
–Symptoms usually improve with age, but many adults who were diagnosed at a young age continue to experience problems. People with ADHD may also have additional problems, such as sleep and anxiety disorders.
–The exact cause is unknown, but it can run in families. Speak to your GP if you think that you or your child may have ADHD.
–Although there’s no cure, ADHD can be managed with educational support and medication, if necessary. Medicine is often the first treatment offered to adults, although psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may also help.
– Research by the European ADHD Guidelines Group found that supplements containing omega-3 and omega-6 oils, found naturally in foods such as oily fish, flaxseeds, eggs and nuts, had beneficial effects on symptoms. Cutting out artificial food colourants was also effective.
– For the ADHD Foundation CLICK HERE. For ADHD Wise CLICK HERE