Thursday 28 May – continued
Piazza Maggiore, Bologna
Library at the University of Bologna

Bologna is hot, busy, and bright. First impressions were a bit mixed, as it’s easier to get lost in Italy than almost anywhere else I’ve been. Roads aren’t called what the map says they are; signage isn’t clear in the first place or changes its mind as you go along; and in the older parts of towns, there are dozens of small alleyways and back streets that don’t appear on the map at all.

So far, I’ve managed to get from A to B without having to backtrack and review my route – how often? Well, there’s a thing. I don’t think I have, not even once. The secret – allow LOTS of time to get to where you want to be, and adopt a very Italian attitude. Life is just not punctual here, but 5 or 10 minutes either side of an agreed meeting is perfectly acceptable. As is responding to interruptions of all kinds. “Go with the flow” is the only way to do it, and providing you don’t stress easily, it seems to work fine.

Great to have the chance to take in an Escher exhibition this afternoon!

Renato and Anna Maria, Emilia Romagna representatives for ADHD organisation AIFA Onlus
Sharing information and peer support with parents in the Ospedale Psichiatrico Provinciale Roncati

Fantastic day in Bologna, focusing on ADHD and the challenges here. As elsewhere, awareness of ADHD and the debates surrounding it – medication or not? actual impairment or “just” problems with behaviour? diagnosis? profile? – are far less developed and well known than those surrounding autism, and services and provision correspondingly less developed.

I meet with Anna Maria Cava, Emilia Romagna’s representative for the national organisation AIFA Onlus, and Renato Moglia, who is developing a home school programme to help young people and parents engage with the issues and build strategies for school and everyday life.

It’s a sign of the “poor relation” status ADHD sometimes carries that Anna Maria’s work for AIFA Onlus has to be voluntary: she works part time. As the parent of a daughter with ADHD, now in her twenties and still requiring a high level of support from the family, she wanted to help others feel less isolated and better informed about the condition. Anna Maria admits to concerns over what the future may hold.

Renato’s home school initiative is in its early days, and he finds it can be hard going as it depends for its success on the willingness and ability of both schools and families to commit to the changes needed in order to support the child with difficulties. He’s seeking European funding to give the programme a firmer foundation and expand the number of families they are able to support.

Anna Maria and Renato have been invited to the Ospedale Psichiatrico Provinciale Roncati, where they have a close working relationship with the neuropsychiatric staff, to attend a parents’ support group and share information about the work of AIFA Onlus. I go along to the meeting and find around 15 parents, fathers as well as mothers, and apparently from a range of backgrounds – one mum wears a hijab, another is clearly of African origin. They share stories and information, and ask questions both of Anna Maria and Renato, and the psychologists facilitating the meeting.

Ospedale Psichiatrico Provinciale Roncati in Bologna
Mural in the hospital entrance

While this continues, I interview Dottoressa Simona Chiodo, who has headed up the ADHD programme in the west of Bologna for 10 years. Again I’m struck by how much more of a battle it seems to be to have the issues associated with ADHD taken seriously, despite Italian experiences corresponding broadly with British ones – that is, that well over half of young people in the Life on the Edge of the Cliff age range who run into problems with the police, or with drug, substance or alcohol abuse, are almost certainly affected to some degree by one or other of the conditions I’m investigating in this study. Some estimates put that figure very much higher.

With the scale of the social and economic problem for all of us, quite apart from the impact on individual lives, I’m grateful for people like Anna Maria, Renato, Simona, and their colleagues who are doing all they can to turn things around.

After that, of course, we have to go for coffee, although we decide for afternoon tea in acknowledgement of my Britishness, and talk some more. (I’m nearly a week into my trip now, and acclimatised to the Italian way of doing things – funnily enough, it really comes very naturally.) I’d like to speak with Anna Maria for longer, particularly when she begins to tell me about her personal experience with her daughter and the movement into adulthood, but we’re out of time and she’s away over the weekend. We agree we’ll find time for a phone call or keep in touch by email, and I’ll ask more questions then.

Sadly, my planned visit to Reggio Emilia fell through at the last minute as we were unable to find a convenient time for both of us because of schedule changes. However I’m hoping to call Rossella Brindani of Centro Servizi PMI when I’m home and bring that perspective into the mix, because we were going to be speaking about what support employers need if they are to integrate people with learning difficulties successfully in the workplace, and I think it’s incredibly relevant to making sure programmes are sustainable.

However, when a door closes a window opens, and that means for me an extra day in Florence – real hardship there, then – and also a chance to get on top of the tech issues that have plagued me over the first week.

And with the way things have gone so far, I have no qualms whatsoever about taking a little downtime. I have so much information from the first 5 days I feel I could write a book already – and there’s still another Italian region plus Norway and the Czech Republic to come!

Next: A Weekend in Florence