Simon Glenister, Damien Ribbans and Annie Clements on giving young people with ADHD the tools to manage their own outcomes.

Awareness of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in children and adults has grown exponentially in recent years. As the number of diagnoses continues to rise, the outdated stigma and the negative stereotypes are breaking down. However, children and young people still face many challenges in the community and at school.

People experience ADHD in many different ways. Some of the common challenges associated with the condition include a lack of focus, fatigue, impulsivity, anger, and poor self-esteem. Each case of ADHD is individual and often, girls present differently to boys, with girls being able to ‘mask’ the symptoms at times.

Children and their families face long waits for diagnosis and support, with wait times currently up to seven years in some areas. The NHS is under severe strain and so too is the education system.

While previous generations faced the problems of the stigma attached to ADHD, such as the assumptions that the associated behaviours were ‘naughty’ or ‘unruly’ and that it only affected boys, this generation’s issue is a lack of access to diagnosis and support.

There is hope, as awareness of ADHD grows, so too does the understanding. Practitioners, parents, schools and the general population are beginning to counter the stigmas and embrace the positives that come with the neurodiverse mind.

While the huge rise in children and adults seeking an ADHD diagnosis increases pressure, it also brings positives to a community of people who are coming together to realise that they do not need to be ‘fixed’, they simply need to be recognised and given the environments and tools in which they can more successfully operate.

■ Choosing music I want to make.

Programmes and approaches have been developed in recent years, including, music-based therapy using self determination theory where participants are paired with a professional music mentor, working one to one for around ten weeks. The participants are mostly referred from schools and councils. Those taking part will more often than not, have mental health challenges and be experiencing problems in school, with many refusing to attend or turning up sporadically. They may have encountered bullying, relationship breakdowns with teachers and or parents and some may even be reluctant to leave home.

Participants often display low self-esteem, a sense of not being good enough and the feeling that they are not able to achieve. This approach can give young people with ADHD the chance to transform how they see themselves and their world. This happens through autonomy, competence and relatedness—the three key principles of the self-determination theory.

The self-determination theory helps participants to feel in control as the musicians support each participant to choose the music they want to make, how they want to make it and who they want to share it with. It also helps them to feel good at something because the programme enables participants to experience feelings of success when they create their music, quickly. Thirdly, it helps them to feel connected as each person’s online stream of their work highlights that success, in a way that encourages positive feedback from the people they care about. This allows the participant to feel ‘seen’.

Researchers are now known to be exploring the links between ADHD and the self determination theory, with studies exploring how the theory could be used as an important theoretical framework in which relevant research questions about motivation and its importance in the understanding of ADHD can be developed. Experts who have first-hand experience of the effects of the Noise Solution programme say that it presents a clear example of what works when the right environment and relationships are created for those with ADHD to succeed.

While the theoretical basis of the work is a driver of the success participants experience, it is also the environmental factor that plays a big part, with those taking part feeling safe, cared for and respected. Relationship building is critical and the musicians need to feel fully invested in those they work with, taking time to listen, understand and encourage and helping to create an environment to work in which suits the individual.

The approach has led to dramatically improved wellbeing,school attendance and a positive outlook for their future. Parents report significant improvements in relationships with their children and participants gain a renewed sense of identity and control around their lives. The experience has been transformative for Rihanna, giving her a sense of what she can achieve, helping her to rebuild her confidence and feel valued.

Rihanna said: “I just felt like I could be myself and really looked forward to it. I achieved so much and feel very proud, the sessions have been quite life changing for me. My anxiety disappears.. I’ve been playing the drums and feel like I have learnt a lot and want to carry on learning. I’ve written my own songs that I am proud of. Doing this makes me feel happy.”

Simon Glenister

Simon Glenister is the founder and CEO of Noise Solution, a social enterprise using music technology to engage young people and improve wellbeing.

Damian Ribbans is the Operations Director at Noise Solution. He is also a consultant working with charities and social enterprises.

Annie Clements is the founder of /


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