It’s okay to do everything quickly, to not pay attention, to struggle to concentrate and focus, to get bored easily and to be always wanting the next thing. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just part of the ADHD condition. I now use this to my advantage when writing books. I understand exactly how children feel and I firmly believe they have the right to be their ADHD authentic selves as much as anybody without the condition. They shouldn’t have to adapt to fit in. Society needs to adapt to accept them.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Templeton.
Sarah Templeton, diagnosed ADHD aged 51, founded the biggest team of ADHD diagnosed therapists in the UK, and is a passionate advocate for ADHD screening in education and the criminal justice system.
An ex-prison counsellor, Sarah is CEO of charity ADHD LIBERTY, thought to be the first charity in the world to initiate ADHD screening in police stations, which began in the UK in May 2023
She’s the author of — ‘How NOT To Murder Your ADHD Kid — Instead Learn to Be Your Child’s Own ADHD Coach’ and ‘Teachers! How Not to Kill the Spirit in Your ADHD Kids! Instead, understand their Brains and Turbo Charge our Future Leaders & Winners’
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I’m a classic case of missed ADHD. Because mine wasn’t picked up until I was nearly 52. I failed my age 12+ Grammar School entry and ended up at a dismal secondary modern school. This was because nobody had identified my dyscalculia, dyspraxia, sensory processing disorder, and the umbrella under which all this sat, ADHD. So, I wasted four years learning nothing having loved every second of my junior school.
My mother chose to tell me on my 16th birthday that at the end of my first year, the Headmistress had rung to tell her that I shouldn’t be at the school and that they had found me a place at the grammar school.
Unfortunately, when the uniform list arrived, my mother didn’t feel she could spend out again, having bought a whole new uniform the year before. So again, I missed the opportunity to go to the grammar school.
I was a frustrated child knowing that I was not being stretched and not reaching my full potential. I excelled at some subjects and was abysmal at others but had no idea why. But I didn’t show any ‘classic’ ADHD symptoms. I never skipped school. I always handed in my homework. I didn’t punch anybody. And I never once threw a chair at a teacher. So, I went under the radar until a counsellor finally spotted ADHD in me, aged 51.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
Well, if nearly 10 years ago counts as younger, then it definitely has to be ‘Delivered from Distraction’ by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey. This book blew my mind. It explained my entire life. I honestly had thought until this point that ADHD was nine-year-old boys chucking chairs at teachers.
I had absolutely no idea that it was a neuro diversity, i.e., a different brain wiring and a completely different way of thinking. It explained absolutely everything that has been going on in my brain and that I had been beating myself up about for half a century. I knew that I always thought I knew best about everything and that I always wanted everything my own way. I also knew I was quicker than everybody else and wanted new and different things constantly and that my boredom threshold was incredibly low. But it wasn’t until I read this book that I found out this was all perfectly normal! Apparently, these are all traits of my kind of ADHD, which is moderate to severe combined type. It was lightbulb moment after lightbulb moment, as I began to realise, I was perfectly normal or at least perfectly normal in the ADHD world.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I made so many mistakes due to my undiagnosed ADHD, it’s difficult to know where to start. But my impulsive decisions meant I sold a brand-new mini two weeks after getting it, just because the window ripped a hole in my treasured leather jacket.
I also put a flat back on the market the day after I moved in because the very thin walls meant a crying baby had kept me awake all night.
And I bought a flat in Bulgaria which was advertised on the back of a free newspaper purely because my husband told me “Not to be so silly reading it because I would never buy one the flats” By the end of that day I was the proud owner of what turned out to be one of the most pokey flats on a dreadful estate in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria.
Those three impulsive decisions alone lost me tens of thousands of pounds.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
I am aiming to transform the way ADHD is perceived and the impact it has on so many people when it is undiagnosed.
I worked in prisons and young offender institutes and was horrified at the amount of undiagnosed ADHD people there were behind bars. When I left my last post at HMP Portland in 2016, I swore I would not rest until I got everybody in the criminal justice system assessed for ADHD.
The books I write are all aimed at understanding ADHD children and focusing their positive traits in the right direction. The first book I wrote for parents was to help them understand their own children. The second book for teachers is to help them nurture ADHD brains and to not try and turn ADHD kids into neurotypical kids. I’ve written another one coming out shortly for parents of ADHD teenagers.
I want people to understand that ADHD kids are not naughty. They are feisty and opinionated but channelled in the right direction they can be hugely successful leaders in just about every industry.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
There are so many and to me they are all interesting because I love all ADHD kids. Possibly one of the most inspirational is a boy who aged 13 had been arrested for armed robbery. He was part of a gang of seven. The other six were sent to juvenile prison for three years.
The judge waved his ADHD diagnosis in his face and said, “this means I can’t send you but I’m going to punish you on the outside more than the others” Luckily one of his punishments was coming to see me once a week for eighteen months. And in eighteen months we covered every ADHD trait there was, how he would do things differently in future, boosting his self-esteem and making him feel like the winner I knew he could be. He is currently at university studying law wanting to help ADHD kids in the future.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
I had been working with the homeless, young offenders and those impacted by addiction for the best part of 30 years. I always knew I got on with these people incredibly well. Particularly offenders. I could never understand why. I had never broken the law in my life, but every single one I sat in front of literally within the first minute — we bonded. The rapport was instant. I used to describe it as ‘like magic’ because I could really not work it out.
Then came my ADHD diagnosis and that was the Aha moment. All of these people had the same brain as me. They were all ADHD.
This has made me passionate about helping marginalised members of society ever since. If I hadn’t had such a strong-willed mother, I could so easily have gone down any of these paths, and I will never ever judge anybody for anything their ADHD traits have got them into.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
There was a young man, aged 29, we will call him Tom, who had been in and out of prison, all his life. He had actually been arrested over 500 times, convicted 53 times and been to prison 15 times. I was absolutely convinced there was ADHD in his family, and when he was arrested again, I begged his mother to let me meet him.
When I did meet him within minutes, it was very obvious he was severely ADHD. It was also obvious he had dysgraphia and dyscalculia. My charity arranged for him to be assessed and diagnosed.
The Psychiatrist showed me his paperwork and said he was “the most severe case of ADHD I’ve ever seen”. Tom was then diagnosed and medicated, and for the last 2 1/2 years has not reoffended. For the first time in his life, he has a steady job, a steady partner and two beautiful daughters. All it took was the right diagnosis and the right medication for him to lead the life he should always have been able to lead if only his condition been picked up earlier.
This is why I fight so hard for ADHD screening in schools. If Tom’s severe ADHD had been picked up earlier, he wouldn’t have the crippling low self-esteem and self-hatred of himself for the petty, but prolific crimes, he has committed.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Yes, there are three things and very importantly these three things don’t cost much money and will change and save lives:
1. Screening for ADHD and all its comorbidities, i.e., dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, and dyslexia in schools from the age of 5 and at every transition so again at 7, 11, 15, 17 and 19.
2. Mandatory screening for ADHD throughout the whole criminal justice system. Ideally picking up young people when they first come into a police station or first have any contact with youth offending services. But screening also at Probation and in the entire prison system. Every prisoner should be screened for ADHD on the induction wing along with all the other conditions, they are screened for.
3. All trainee psychologists and psychiatrists to be trained in ADHD so they can all diagnose this easily identifiable condition. It doesn’t need to be a specific ADHD psychologist or psychiatrist to diagnosis when it only takes two days training for them to become an ADHD specialist.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Just because you’ve been to a secondary modern school doesn’t mean you can’t achieve in the world. For a very long time, I thought that because I didn’t have A levels and hadn’t been to university I was ‘less than’ other people. It’s taken me a very long time to realise that that’s absolutely not the case and it’s all about your passion, your drive, your commitment and if you want something badly enough, you will absolutely get it.
2. It’s okay to do everything quickly, to not pay attention, to struggle to concentrate and focus, to get bored easily and to be always wanting the next thing. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just part of the ADHD condition. I now use this to my advantage when writing books. I understand exactly how children feel and I firmly believe they have the right to be their ADHD authentic selves as much as anybody without the condition. They shouldn’t have to adapt to fit in. Society needs to adapt to accept them.
3. That you could only be a mother if you gave birth and to be a real woman you had to marry and have children. I have mothered hundreds of young offenders. A lot have lost their mothers to addiction due to undiagnosed ADHD. Some of them call me mum. Some of them call me their godmother. Some of them send me Mother’s Day cards and all of them tell me they love me. And I love them — every single one of them. And I will always be there for each of them, no matter what. Some of them have gone back to prison, and I keep in touch with all of them by email, letter and phone.
4. That you have to find a career and stick to it. Nothing could be further from the truth when you have ADHD. I have had numerous businesses over the years only one of which was a dismal failure. The rest have been successful and have all involved helping people. I worked for many years in recruitment ending up with my own employment agency and got a huge buzz and contentment from helping people find jobs, especially when they had been made redundant or lost their job for any other reason. Making people happy has always been my goal in life and I found this in recruitment for many years. Then I retrained as a counsellor and have spent my life making ADHD people happy ever since.
5. That to be an author you had to be clever. I’ve never considered myself very bright, largely thanks to that horrendous secondary modern school experience. But, when a friend convinced me to write down everything I knew about ADHD, I had zero confidence in anybody wanting to read anything I had to say. When my first book started to sell all over the world, nobody was more shocked than me. But it’s spurred me on to write more books to help teachers and other professionals working with ADHD kids. I realised you didn’t have to be academic or clever, but you did need to know your subject and be passionate about communicating it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was working in a young offenders’ institute, I was counselling a client one day and we both had our feet up on chairs. We saw an officer approaching, so both quickly tried to get our feet off the chairs and onto the floor. An officer came in and yelled at the offender to get his feet of the chairs but didn’t say anything to me.
When he left, I said something along the lines of “he didn’t have to be so rude, and I was doing it just as much as you” And the offender said to me something I will never forget “that’s the trouble Sarah, they think you are one of them and you’re not — you’re one of us”.
That was the biggest compliment, anybody has ever paid me. And at some point, I intend to get it tattooed on my arm! The lesson being, always to treat people equally.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Yes John Hallowell. I adore him, but I’ve never met him. He epitomises to me what ADHD should be all about. He is a huge success, yet a warm, kind, and friendly psychiatrist who seems so relatable. I like to think I’m like that.
I’m down and dirty with the clients and don’t see myself as elevated at all. I think John is the same and very much aligns himself with ALL ADHD people whoever they are, and I massively respect that.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The work I’m doing to change ADHD in the criminal justice system can all be found at http://www.ADHDLiberty.org.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Sarah Templeton Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.