Benjamin Stafford mentions it twice – how, until his diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at 22, he tried to cover up his struggles in life. “Masking is common when it comes to ADHD,” he says. “You try to pretend you don’t have problems but it’s often hard to realise for yourself what your struggles are, let alone put them into words in order to tell others.”

Add to that feelings of shame around your struggles and fear of accepting that you do have problems. “This ultimately stops you seeking help,” he says.

Looking back now, post-diagnosis, Ben can tell a lot with hindsight. “I was headstrong as a child, always trying to push against routine. I couldn’t concentrate well, was easily distracted and found it hard to organise myself.”

As he grew up, Ben often found himself avoiding social situations. Relationships proved challenging also because he was not good at picking up social cues. “ADHD impacts all areas of your life – education, socialising, friendships,” he says. “Over the years – only that I loved GAA and had training and matches every week – I probably wouldn’t have left my room, let alone the house.”

While Ben’s dyspraxia was diagnosed at the age of six, ADHD wasn’t mentioned. Dyspraxia meant that coordination was recognised as his main difficulty. “Playing football and especially hurling was a challenge, but ultimately it helped me,” he says.

Some of his other problems because of dyspraxia overlapped at times with ADHD, although he didn’t know it then. These were challenges like speech issues, social and emotional skills, short-term memory and auditory and verbal processing. “Overall, the dyspraxia explained the movement problems and fine motor skills like difficulty writing but not the attention problems,” he says.

ADHD is a medical/neurological condition where the brain’s neurotransmitter chemicals, noradrenalin and dopamine, do not work properly. It can affect learning and behaviour throughout the school years and beyond, according to the support charity ADHD Ireland. Learning disorders often accompany it.

Ben obtained his master’s in April this year.

Passion for learning

Ben credits his parents and teachers for the help he has had over the years.

“I got my passion for learning off my late father, James, who always tried to learn as much as he could as a farmer and entrepreneur.

“He did things like keeping Highland cattle and breeding unusual types of pigs and he and my mother opened a farm shop too. I’ve had a lot of support from my mother, Emer, as well. She’s the number one person in my life and always will be. I had regular one-to-one tuition at school up to Junior Cert as well,” he says. “And I got a waiver for spelling and grammar and extra time in exams, too, which helped me get through.”

Ben always had an ambition to study law and after achieving 440 points in the Leaving Certificate, he began a degree in the subject in UCC with the help of the DARE (Disability Access Route to Education) scheme.

However, studying was very difficult throughout his school years because of his attention issues. “You’re looking at your peers and seeing how much they are able to do and learn,” he says, “whereas you’re well behind even though you want to learn. I had a fear of failure, too, which added to the stress.”

ADHD, when it goes undiagnosed and is left lingering, can also affect your mental health, Ben believes.“You have anxiety and low self-esteem and very little confidence. I put friendships and going out on the back burner because of trying to study. It brought me to dark places at times.”

Lockdowns helped

Interestingly, when it came to studying for his primary degree, the pandemic lockdowns helped him hugely.

“From March 2020, lectures went online,” he says. “That meant they were recorded so I could look at them over and over if I needed to. In normal lectures, I used to be furiously trying to write and listen but, being easily distracted because of ADHD, I’d miss a lot. A lot of pressure was off, too, during lockdowns as I didn’t have to go out socially.”

Things began to unravel, however, with the pressure of doing his thesis for his master’s. “Because I wanted to do really well, I reclused myself that year, studying from 9am to 9pm. That winter, I had no GAA outlet either because the season was over. I describe that time as ‘going into a dark hole’ but thankfully, I got over it with a lot of support from my mother.”

Turning point

Amid these mental health challenges, he wasn’t able to progress with his thesis. “I was maintained a 1:1 grade with assignments in the second semester that year but I should have been progressing my thesis as well.

“By mid-July, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it finished for September and I felt like a failure. That was a turning point for me, though. I needed to find out why I was struggling. I wanted to know why I couldn’t be like other people who could have balance in their lives, why I had to put everything else in my life on the back burner to study.”

Becoming more aware of ADHD, Ben found himself researching the condition, realising that he ticked many of the symptom boxes. “The symptoms were very relevant to what I was facing in life,” he says, “and I knew I needed to get an assessment done.”

At this point, Ben deferred his thesis for a year in order to seek help. “It took me six months to seek the diagnosis and another three to get it,” he says.

HSE waiting lists were long so a private assessment via Zoom with a UK provider was his only option. “That’s basically where all the change started for me,” Ben says. He then went to his GP to have the recommended medication prescribed

Within three months, when he reached the correct dose, he found that everything had improved. His ability to concentrate had increased, his anxiety had lessened and he was more at ease socially. “It changed my life,” he says, “along with CBT therapy and counselling and support from ADHD Ireland, which is a fantastic organisation.”

Ben was conferred with a Master’s Degree in Environmental and Natural Resources Law in April this year. “It was a wonderful day. I still can’t believe it,” he says. He is now working in Dublin, employed by AIB as part of its Legal, Corporate, Governance and Customer Care and Outcomes Graduate Programme. “I’d say I wouldn’t have got this job or been able to move to Dublin if I hadn’t been diagnosed,” Ben says. “It has changed my life and made me a better person. At 24, I’m now able to enjoy life to the fullest and I look forward to the future. I would recommend getting a diagnosis to anyone who thinks they may have ADHD. “If you fix your problems and are open to changing your approach and seeking new forms of help, you can achieve anything you want.”

Ken Kilbride, CEO of ADHD Ireland.

ADHD Ireland – support

The mission of those who run ADHD Ireland is to make life better for all with ADHD, its CEO, Ken Kilbride says. “It’s a holistic support service, for adults and children, for parents and those who work with people with ADHD too, so we do a lot of teacher training as well.”

The charity also runs an education programme for GPs and provides webinars and talks for university, corporate and community sectors. “We’ve also just launched an Understanding and Managing Adult ADHD (UMAPP) online self-management course,” he says. “Acceptance and commitment therapy is included in it. This enables people to understand and accept their ADHD and also put in supports to help themselves.”

There is more awareness of ADHD among adults now, Ken says. “The HSE is setting up more clinics because 20-30% of new ADHD referrals are adults so there is a rush to get the services provided.”

He admits that getting assessed can be difficult. “HSE clinics are not all open or are not taking new clients. There’s a clinic in Limerick and one opening soon in the midlands but there is none in the Wexford Waterford area.”

The biggest challenge is society’s attitude to the condition, Ken believes. “For adults who grew up 30 or 40 years ago, there was no understanding of it. They were all the time trying to fit into a world that didn’t exactly work for them. Educating yourself about ADHD builds compassion and acceptance and helps you see how you can fit into the world in a way that works for you.”

His advice to readers is this: “If you think it is ADHD, get assessed, no matter what age you are.

“All the international research points one way – once you get the assessment and know what you’re dealing with, life outcomes improve.”

In short

Adults with ADHD have problems in six major areas of executive functioning:

• Activation: Problems with organisation, prioritising, and starting tasks.

• Focus: Problems with sustaining focus and resisting distraction, especially with reading.

• Effort: Problems with motivation, sustained effort, and persistence.

• Emotion: Difficulty regulating emotions and managing stress.

• Memory: Problems with short-term memory and memory retrieval.

• Action: Problems with self-control and self-regulation.

Dyspraxia is just one of several learning disabilities which may affect those with ADHD. About 30-50% of children with ADHD also have a learning disability.

For more information, visit

Read more

Maura Canning: ‘a routine blood pressure check saved my life’

‘I lost my sight and everything went pure black – but I keep going’