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Lynn McCann, autism specialist teacher, trainer, author and business lead of Reachout ASC, joins me on the podcast to explore ADHD from the perspective of professionals with lived experience, who have gone down the career route in specialist teaching! A great discussion on how our own neurotypes may have an impact on our work (positives and challenges), and on our understanding of ourselves and the young people we support.
Lynn, thank you so much for joining the podcast. I’m really excited for our conversation today. And let’s just start with, can you tell us all about the wonderful work you do?
Okay. Well, I think it’s wonderful because I really enjoy it! But then I’m an autism specialist teacher, so I set up an independent service nine years ago now, on my own here in Lancashire and we provide a service to schools. So they buy us in and we work around providing very individual support programmes for children who are autistic.
And now over time that’s developed into children who also have ADHD and PDA and things like that. But it’s really good. And in these nine years there’s now a team of five specialist teachers working with us and we have some support staff as well, some of who are autistic. So I love my team, they are amazing and I love the work.
So alongside that we also do training. Anybody who wants to know about autism or ADHD, we will do training and that’s anywhere in the country or the world. Just ask us. We’ll do it.
Brilliant. And you shared on your wonderful blog about your ADHD diagnosis. Was it last year that you received your diagnosis?
Yes and how did you, I mean, how did you find the process? How did it, you know, help you, I guess, understand the way that you learn and or how did it impact you?
Yes, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because it started off because I’m now 54 and it started off around 50. And I think everybody gets, you know, what’s going on in my life? middle aged crisis thing. But I’ve been doing a lot of work around girls and autism and the research and I kept coming across ADHD in girls and I kept having like shivers through me thinking, Oh my gosh, it sounds like me.
This sounds like me. So near my 50th birthday, I went to my doctors with a 4 page essay of why I thought I had ADHD. Because I can hyperfocus, and I said, please send me for a referral. And I made the specific choice to go down the NHS route, partly because I want to help the kids and young people and people that I work with understand that process.
And I know it takes a long time and you’ve got to work out what you do while you’re waiting. So I thought, well, if I’ve experienced that myself, I’ve got something to share. So in the first year they didn’t send my referral off, said they lost it. And so I went back after a year and said I’ve heard nothing, so made them send it off this time and so that took.
Then I was on a two year waiting list and in July 21 I finally had my online assessment which took an hour and a half, very intense right to the end of it. I said, Yeah, I’ve no doubt that you’ve combined ADHD, so but in the meantime I’ve done that hyper focusing and I’d done a university certificate in ADHD. I’d looked and researched everything and I talked to my family and my friends, even an old school friend actually, to kind of get all the evidence together of of whether that was true or not.
Because obviously you think, am I right? Have I got it wrong with all that doubt that you have. So I had enough evidence, but it wasn’t until he said yes that I really believed it.
I can resonate with that and, and especially around like thinking, you know, am I doing this? You know, why am I doing this? Is there is there a reason behind it? I was the same when I was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD and kind of I it was kind of like, okay, I mean, I, I guess I already knew.
But actually when you hear it from somebody, you know, it just kind of confirms your understanding. And then I guess, therefore, for me, trying to work out is there, you know, is there other ways I can do things that’s actually going to help me? I’ve been trying to do it as a certain way. I may be. I don’t know.
I’m thinking maybe specifically with learning. I, I knew at that point why I was I had had previous difficulties in, in my education and then thinking, okay, okay, how can I because I was 19 when I was diagnosed. So I then went to university and was able to do things slightly different. But having that kind of understanding really kind of helps, I guess in terms of yeah, that understanding of yourself. Is there anything like do you think back to your education and you’re like, Oh, okay!
I’ve spent a lot of my life and get so badly exams. So I was top of the class in so many subjects. So it’s obviously quite clever, but my exam results were quite poor for what I should have achieved really. I mean, I’m obviously a bit older, so I think, you know, I did my exams in the eighties and there was no kind of extra help or even discussion about why that might be.
And then when I went to university, to do my teacher training, I was always on the last minute with everything. And again, you know, I just felt like I never achieved what I could have done. And I didn’t know what that barrier was. And I, I kind of grieved for that a little bit since, you know, thinking and you can’t go back and change things.
But I know now that, you know, I’m a voracious learner. I love learning, but I’ve kind of never even gone for to do a masters, for example, because I’m too scared of failing with my so I probably could do it now, but I think it just hangs around, doesn’t it? Yeah, but I’ve been a lot kinder to myself.
Just been all that looking back on everything. You reevaluate everything, don’t you? I bet you’ve done that as well. Yeah. And then you kind of helps you be more kind to yourself, I think.
Yeah. Yeah. And it was, I mean it took me quite a while, like to link why I do the work that I do back to my own personal experiences. I don’t know why it took so long. It wasn’t until I actually had started doing my autism specialist teaching business. I went on a business course and we were asked the question about why, why do you do the work you’re doing? At that time, I you know, I was thinking I just love, I love interacting with autistic individuals. I just, I just love it. I love it. And then and I was really questioned on it. But why do you love it? Why do you love going into schools? And then, you know, I really thought about, okay, when I’m, when I’m in the classroom, I see, I feel like I see things that maybe other other teachers might not see or they might not pick up on. Why?
And then I’m thinking, you know, I can, I can feel it, you know, like really kind of thinking, hang on a minute, there is a reason why I’m so passionate about the work, the work I do. And I wonder whether it’s similar with you. You know, I really I can go into a classroom and I just like advocating for the child just comes so natural to me.
And I wonder if I’m, you know, deep inside there is I’m thinking of myself as well. Like, you know, maybe things could have been different if there would have been these adaptions when I was at school or, you know, just seeing things where the seemingly little adaptions can make such a difference. Um, do you feel or do you think about, well, maybe the question is how do you think maybe your own personal experience of ADHD helps with the work you do?
I think very similar to you actually. Right from the first when I went into teaching, I was always really had a big heart for children with special educational needs. And when I started teaching autistic children and then I went into a specialist school as well, I went on supply and never left for eight years, but it was just about I could see something about the children, which was great potential and getting to know each child individually and like the spark of intelligence that was there, that was not recognized by other people and what what was not bring in, that was the barriers they were experiencing around them.
So it could be a communication barrier or sensory barrier. And I just got it, you know, and I think, yes, it does come up here in experience because if you’ve had to experience barriers yourself, then that does give you that empathy. And you know, I got a lot of empathy back from autistic young people as well. And just by that connection, so I was able to advocate for them and, you know, just bring to the teachers who were working with them and insight into, you know, their potential.
And if we just did this and that, would, you know, allow that and so on. And yeah, I really love it for that reason. And because they have helped me in being very accepting, very adapting as well. It’s a two way relationship, isn’t it? And that’s kind of where it comes from, if that all makes sense.
Yeah, yeah. I have met quite a few teachers and probably you because I know you’ve been doing your, is it a neurodivergent teach meet? I mean I’ve I’ve met many teachers who are in the, you know, the field of special educational needs and, you know, maybe they can also relate some of the things we’re talking about maybe through their own personal experience or, you know, something, teachers go into this this field because they’re really passionate about about children and supporting children’s learning.
I would love to hear about how your work around the the the teach meets have been going, have you been doing many?
No, we just try to as an experiment because you know when we do training with schools, we’re very often getting teachers coming to us afterwards and say, you know, that sounds like me. And and we’re finding this is in mainstream school. A lot of teachers who are very isolated, you know, struggling with the same sort of things that I’ve struggled with.
And and just, you know, that bravery to come to some, come up to somebody and says, I might have these struggles, too. And a lot of the struggles for teachers is that we’re in a system that really kind of pushes us on a certain ways of doing things. And crazy deadlines and loads of, you know, additional work. But also the changes it can be kind of set up to do something and then suddenly change it and expect you to adapt.
And that’s hard for anybody who’s neurodivergent. And and I think that it’s not the time with the children because that is the joy. It’s actually additional stuff. And I know when I was teaching in schools that that is what nearly crushed me so many times. It’s just, you know, you’ve got this, do you got it? Or can you do it this way?
Now, can you do it that way and that and managing my time around it, because I do struggle with the concept of time.
Yes me too.
And it’s and I hear from teachers as well, which really upsets me, is that when they have any kind of, you know, try to talk to senior leaders or their head teachers about it, then the professionalism is questioned. That really makes me angry, you know. Well, maybe you’re in the wrong profession. That has been said to a number of teachers because they’re struggling with, you know, this little stuff and the pressure and everything on top.
And I just I mean, it’s against the Equality Act for a start. It’s discrimination. But I think that’s why we put the teach meet together is we just thought we’ll create a safe space, start the conversation and look together. You know, from that, what we learn from each other. So there is a Facebook page called Neurodivergent Teachers, which I’m involved in with some other people.
And it would be really good, you know, to let people know that it’s there and just find a safe space. I don’t know what we’re going to do. I don’t know if we’re going to change the world, but we just care. And we understand. And I guess thats a good place to start from. I think.
You know, you’ve just said some really helpful things. And I know from my experience, if I think back to so at the moment I’m working for myself, but before that my last two positions in a school and they were both when I had leadership positions, my, my two leadership positions that I’ve done. So the first one I did, I at that point, I don’t know.
I don’t know why I didn’t feel comfortable to talk about my neurodivergence and I didn’t and I, I got burnt out and it was hard. And in my second, that second leadership position, I started talking about some of the things, you know, for example, a room that I didn’t have my own office. I was a SENCo and I was constantly moving about.
I struggled so hard to be able to concentrate in the rooms I was working. People were in and out. It was tough, but I, knew I just had to talk about it. So I, I did and I did have a very, it was a very supportive senior leadership team that I worked with. And it actually showed me that I needed to start talking about these things.
You know, there are things that I find difficult that somebody else might not find difficult. And actually there are things that we can do. And it sounds, again, like this whole kind of when we think about the work we do, it seems like it should be obvious that people would be supportive. But I mean, what you’ve just said there, it’s definitely not the case all the time.
I think having the confidence to be able to talk about it, I mean, that showed me that, you know, for a start they were listening. We made changes, you know, at that point this was before the pandemic and we made a plan, I was going to do my written work at home. Brilliant. That work better for me. So, you know, I think, you know, groups like what you just talked about are very supportive in helping to provide that support network and and having the confidence to talk about, you know, maybe things that you’re finding difficult and also realizing that all of those skills that we have I know one of the things that for me that I’ve been learning about and I’m still learning about, I know that there are times where I can focus really well and there are times that I don’t, and that’s okay. And at those times I’m going to do something different. Before I would just try. I would try to do it and it would just be I would just be so unproductive.
So I put a brick wall in your head, isn’t it?
Yeah. Oh, my gosh. Sometimes I, you know, the struggle of just trying to to be productive. I used to really fight it and get so frustrated with myself. And now I’m glad I’ve got to this point where I’m just like, okay, I’m just going to try and do something maybe kind of like what I would suggest with with the children.
I want to cry because I’m saying exactly what I’ve been through and it is such a battle with yourself sometimes. Yeah, I think I’m having to learn to kind of build in times or I just let it go. Yeah, I might have seven reports to write, but there’s no way I can. sit in front of a computer and write anything because it ain’t coming.
But there is that flexibility, I suppose, working for yourself to do that. But then I get stressed because it’s piling up and then some days I’ll get through the lot, you know, and it’s like, I’ll just have to go with it and not fight it so much and try and go with it.
Yeah, yeah. It’s difficult though, isn’t it? I mean, I know sometimes I all of a sudden have this I’m in the zone and it’s 9:00 at night and I’m like, okay, okay. I’m just going to I’m just going to go with it for a bit because I know that it might not be like this tomorrow. Yeah, I think, you know, I’m really, really pleased that, you know, neurodiversity is becoming more and more of a topic of discussion and people’s understanding is becoming you know, we’re becoming more aware.
And hopefully the more we talk about these things, the more people are going to understand. And actually in a in a work environment, whether you’re a teacher or someone else, people are going to have different different things they need to be productive and that’s fine. So, yeah, it’s great. Neurodivergent Teachers, I’m going to see if I’m part of that Facebook group, if not I need to be.
Yeah, we’re also putting together so I have another autistic teacher who works with me and she’s brilliant at doing research. So she’s put together a whole recorded and thing about the Equality Act, around reasonable adjustments about employment law because we do have rights, you know, behind us to ask for reasonable adjustments. And they can be simple things like being able to work from home or asking for an agenda before a meeting.
That makes a huge difference to me. And so, as you know, I asked you for some questions before I came, because otherwise my brain has got all these other things in my mind and I need to narrow it down. So it’s just providing that extra structure that makes me do the best work I can. And that’s what every teacher really should be able to ask because it is the law and the Equality Act is really useful to know about.
So we’ve put this information together. Hopefully we’re going to release it in the New Year, but we do already have a free course. On being a Neurodivergent teacher. I think it’s called been an autistic teacher, but it covers everything really and I’ll send you the link and we’ve had loads of teachers get in touch with us to say how helpful that is.
It’s just, you know, a short thing to just realize that they have got these rights that they don’t have to do it confrontationally. You know, it can just come up in conversation. But also, you know, the employees have responsibilities to look after them.
Not helping them. That’s the big thing. That’s a lot of bullying. And bullying in the workplace is real. It happened to me. That’s how I ended up leaving my last job. So I’ve worked for five different head teachers in my career and three of them were absolutely brilliant. They, you know, they gave me really positive feedback where I was a good teacher, helped me develop my skills and gave me space to do things in the way that I work best.
And I had two headteachers, one in my early career who and bullied me so badly and picked on things so minimal, you know, like little tiny things that I ended up crashing out of teaching and didn’t go back for six months. I had young children at the time and really awful and no confidence to stick up for myself.
The second time I felt I was bullied. I did stick up for myself and I left. I did leave because I was threatened and and I was threatened with incompetency procedures. And I just knew that wasn’t right. Sadly, the union I was in at the time wasn’t much help, but I decided I was going to do things my way because that wasn’t true.
So I did leave and I set up this business and here I am nine years later.
Well done Lynn!
I think it’s important. Just know that sometimes it’s the wrong place. Not. Not them. That’s wrong.
Yes. It’s I’m I’m really sorry to hear that. And I was on I’m part of a Facebook group called I forget what it’s called anyway it’s is for SENCOs and teachers. And there are there have been a number of situations like what you’ve just described where a teacher has. Yeah, bullying it’s bullying and gosh, you need these support networks around you.
And I think that’s an important point that you just made. Sometimes you’re just not in the right environment. If I kind of round up what we were saying, I guess, like being able to talk about these things, hopefully, you know, with support networks around you, having that confidence and you mentioned about, you know, we do have rights, there are things there to to to help.
And one more thing, because I just thought about this before Access to Work, which is, you know, maybe people don’t know about this is government funding for it’s available for individuals to support their their work and I did an application a couple of years ago and was supported with things to help my work such as I’ve got some speech to text technology, which is really good for me in terms of I can I can talk sometimes talk the sentence much more clearer than if I’m typing it.
That’s really helped and a few other things. So if you haven’t looked at Access to Work, check it out. They might be able to support you or you know who you work.
There is currently a waiting list on that? Actually, I’ve heard of people recently, so we’ve had two of our team use Access to Work for travel costs actually and try and help with is epileptic and needed support with transport. So they got that and our autistic member of stuff gets a taxi to work because of the sensory issues around public transport. So there’s lots of different ways it can help.
Yes, but they’re getting a lot of people now. People know about it a bit more. Yeah, they are getting that waiting list, so it is worth applying. But just be aware that everything’s got a waiting list at the moment, hasn’t it?
Yeah. Everything. Oh, thank you so much, Lynne. It’s been such a pleasure to speak to you. And yeah, if you want to check out Lynne’s website it is reachoutasc.com, isn’t that right? And I’m going to be checking out that Facebook group as well. Neurodivergent teachers.
I’ll send you the link and I’ll send you the link to that free being an autistic teacher course as well. So if you share that’ll be great.
Great. Yes, I’ll share that. Thank you. And have a great day.
Thank you. Lovely to speak with yo
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