ADHD ..Does It Really Exist; Even the Experts Can't Agree on the Existence of Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder

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Byline: EMMA BURNS

WALK into any classroom in Scotland and you'll find at least one child who is struggling to survive at school.

Some can't sit still, don't listen, shout out and even lash out. They often have no friends and their constant disruptions infuriate the teacher.

Others can't master the basics of reading and writing. Often bright kids, they become more and more frustrated and depressed as they slip behind.

There are even some who can't skip or throw a ball or ride a bike or even walk through a room without bashing into some-thing. They're not just slightly clumsy, they're chronically unco-ordinated.

These three problems - labelled as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and dyspraxia - cause misery and confusion to thousands of Scots children and their families.

Dr Gordon Booth, former regional educational pyschologist for Grampian Region, says around one per cent of Scots kids have ADHD, four or five per cent have dyslexia and two or three per cent have dyspraxia.

That's less than in America, where between 15 and 20 per cent of kids are classified as having one of the three conditions, a figure that has trebled since the mid-1970s.

It is still a worryingly high number. And, of course, it's only extreme, identifiable cases which are recorded, but these conditions aren't black and white - there will be many more, milder, cases which remain unrecognised.

What's more, children made miserable by failing at school may turn into depressed adults. The Mental Health Foundation says that emotional problems such as depression and behavioural problems do not just vanish as children get bigger.

Half of kids with emotional problems at the age of 10 still have them five years later. The same is true of 75 per cent of children with behavioural problems.

That means it is incredibly important to tackle them early, before children become so isolated and friendless that they are set for a lifetime of unhappiness.

But what can you do? This is an area of medicine where nothing is clear-cut. Experts differ. Some very respected scientists, such as Professor Steven Rose, director of the brain and behaviour research group at the Open University, based in Milton Keynes, don't even believe ADHD exists.

Others, such as nutritional consultant Dr Jackie Stordy, believe it is clearly identifiable and linked to dyspraxia and dyslexia.

She believes changes to what we eat have caused an imbalance in the long-chain fatty acids that make up 60 per cent of our brains. In children with a genetic predisposition to dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD, this can cause the condition to emerge. For her, the answer is for the kids to take fish-oil supplements.

Janice Hill doesn't believe in ADHD, even though her daughter was diagnosed with it and prescribed Ritalin, a controversial amphetamine treatment.

Scottish guidelines on its use are expected in the next few days. They will almost certainly acknowledge the existence of ADHD and say that Ritalin should be part of a carefully-monitored programme of treatment for children who are severely affected.

Janice - founder of parents' support group, the Overload Network - would like parents to get their kids' hair analysed first. She found that her daughter Deborah was suffering from five different nutritional deficiencies. When they were put right, her so-called ADHD disappeared.

Here, Professor Rose, Dr Stordy and Janice explain how they see the problem.

It's just a special label

NO

PROFESSOR STEVEN ROSE

THERE is evidence that what is called dyslexia is associated with brain problems. The concept of ADHD is much more problematic.

It is not based on evidence of brain processes. The diagnosis is made from an observation of the child's behaviour.

Children who get this diagnosis are clearly problematic to handle. …