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Dartford borough councillor Emma Ben Moussa opens up about living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

October is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder awareness month, or ADHD for short, when a spotlight is shone on the condition which affects millions of children and adults.

Reporter Keely Greenwood spoke to a mum who opened up about living with ADHD – and shared a diary of her week to show what life is really like.

Emma with youngest son Sami
Emma with youngest son Sami

Emma Ben Moussa was labelled the “naughty child” at school – it was a torturous time and, aged 15, even saw her attempt to take her own life “to stop the pain”.

Now a Dartford borough councillor and with two children of her own with ADHD, Emma, of Manor Road, Swanscombe, is keen to dispel the myths around the condition.

Emma was 31 years old when she was first diagnosed, after she took her youngest son along to be tested for autism and the paediatrician told her she had numerous signs of ADHD too.

Now 35, she said the realisation was a huge relief.

“I didn’t have to mask it anymore,” she said. “It’s exhausting being someone you are not.

“Everything made sense. I didn’t feel strange anymore. It wasn’t my fault.

“It’s about knowing who you are.”

Emma with youngest son Sami
Emma with youngest son Sami

The condition is divided into three sections – ADHD Inattentive, with symptoms including being easily distracted, forgetfulness, listening difficulties and an ability to lose objects a lot; ADHD Hyperactivity, which includes impulsivity, restlessness and excessive talking; and ADHD Combined, which is a mixture of the two.

To the uneducated, ADHD looks like a child who has not been disciplined properly, the parents are blamed and the child is constantly told off.

They spend much of their time at school getting detentions for fidgeting, not focusing, distracting others, talking and acting impulsively.

All these may be annoying to a teacher who is trying to carry out a lesson, but they are all traits of ADHD and they can’t be helped.

Emma wants to get this message out and joined a peaceful protest at County Hall in Maidstone last month as part of the SEND Reform Group’s campaign to increase training for teachers and TAs.

Brothers Aymane and Sami have a strong connection
Brothers Aymane and Sami have a strong connection

After all, Emma has first-hand experience of the struggles to fit into a school setting.

She said she was regularly told off for constantly talking and was often put on report at secondary school, which meant getting a form signed by each class teacher detailing her behaviour in that lesson.

“It was just a piece of paper though,” she recalled. “It would get folded up and I’d lose it. Then I’d get in trouble for not handing in my report.”

Thinking back to those difficult days, Emma says: “I was seen as ‘the naughty child’ but I couldn’t help it.

“I was always in trouble. But I tried really hard to concentrate.”


She explains how sitting in a classroom is torture for someone with ADHD, who has to be constantly on the move.

“It was so hard to sit still. I couldn’t focus,” she said. “I would see a squirrel outside the window and I would actually climb out of the window to chase it.”

She said even her own father even thought she had mental health issues.

“It was because I would have emotional explosions that would go from zero to 100 in a matter of minutes over something small,” she said.

“He didn’t understand me.”

But Emma is keen to stress while issues such as depression and anxiety might run alongside the condition, it is not a mental health disease.

Interviewing Emma is certainly an experience and a real test of your shorthand as she talks fast and flits from one subject to another.


“I lose focus,” she admitted.

And she talks loudly.

“This is my volume. I can’t talk any quieter.”

After just about surviving school, dealing with ADHD as an adult has also proved challenging.

“I spend money I don't have,” Emma said, which is a sign of the impulsive nature of the condition.


“I have a duck water fountain in my garden but no water or electric supply outside, so he just sits there looking pretty,” she said.

And she admitted to having piles of clothes she has bought from websites, hoping she might fit into them one day.

She constantly has deliveries come to her house but has no idea what she has ordered.

Then there is the “distractable” nature of the condition.

“It can take three hours to clean my house because I get so distracted,” she admitted.


She joked: “The other day I spent hours Googling how cold it was in Norway and where was hot in October.”

As for resting, that’s not an option for someone with ADHD.

Emma said her brain never stops, which makes sleep impossible. She’ll wake up at 2am desperate to know how long the River Nile is or decide at 3am that it’s time to go to the beach.

Emma has been a councillor for four years, which is a tricky job for someone with ADHD as it involves sitting through long council meetings, waiting for your turn to speak.


“My hand is always shooting up,” she said. “I’ve got better at waiting now though.”

But the job also involves helping people and Emma says people with ADHD always want to please.

Another trait of ADHD is not engaging the brain before speaking, which Emma has to work hard to hide when she might not agree with a fellow polititcian’s views.

“I mumble a lot, hoping they can’t hear me,” she said.

But there are also times when she can’t find the right words. Tricky when you’re a politician.


“I might ask someone how their toaster is instead of how their daughter is,” she explained.

And it’s because her mind is working so fast.

“I can’t get my words out because too much is going on in my head,” she explained.

“I can’t narrow it down for the right words to come out of my mouth.”

Emma said she talks all the time, she talks over people and she overshares, all typical ADHD traits.

Forgetfulness is another big symptom, as Emma explained her head is constantly full of thoughts.


This means her life is ruled by alarms. Although she sometimes forgets what they are for.

“I’ve got one set to go off at 4.30pm,” she said showing me her phone. “But I don’t know what that’s for.”

Fortunately she has her husband for support.

“He’ll know what the alarm is for,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll be watching TV and he’ll say, ‘are we going to eat today?’ and I’ll remember I’ve forgotten to cook the tea.”

But she says there are positive traits too.

Emma goes on a lot of road trips with her children
Emma goes on a lot of road trips with her children

“We are great at multi-tasking and we are excellent at organising events.

“We booked to go to Morocco for Christmas but the flight got cancelled,” she said. “My husband was happy thinking we could have a relaxing two weeks at home. But I’d just gone and booked a hotel in Cardiff, with stop-offs in Bristol and Oxford on the way.”

ADHD is hereditary and Emma’s children were diagnosed before her – her youngest son first as he was non-verbal and showing obvious traits of autism and ADHD.

Sami, who is eight and non-verbal, was diagnosed with ASD when he was two. His brother Amayne, who went along to one of the paediatrician’s meetings with his brother, was diagnosed when he was four.

Having the condition herself means Emma has a clear understanding of her sons as all the traits they display are exactly the same as her.

Emma with youngest son Sami
Emma with youngest son Sami

Emma says she worries about their schooling, knowing what she went through, especially as Aymane is about to start secondary school.

“I am worried he will do things he shouldn’t do just to make other people happy,” she said. “Because that’s what I used to do.”

She said being able to understand what is going on inside her sons’ mind is great but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t tell them off.

Sami particularly tests her patience as one minute he will be pouring juice over her bed just as she’s about to climb in and go to sleep and the next he will be tipping sanitiser all over the kitchen floor or gravy granules over the worktops.

Emma says ADHD Awareness Month is important for dispelling the stigmas attached to the condition.

“It’s about getting rid of that naughty stereotype,” she said. “We are not doing it on purpose. We are doing it because our brain works differently.”

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is characterised by a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

It is often diagnosed when children are six to 12 years old.

People with ADHD may also have additional mental health issues such as depression, difficulty falling or staying asleep and social or general anxiety disorders.

ADHD is known to be neurodevelopmental, meaning it is due to how the brain and nervous system develop.

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