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ADD/ADHD - Thanet ADDers

Chat Magazine, June 1997

Caroline's Story

My husband, Simon, sleeps on the settee. There's nothing wrong our marriage - we're just terrified of what our son, Richard, will do if he gets up in the night. He's already set fire to the carpet a dozen times.

Richard's 12, and the whole family lives in fear of him. As a toddler, he'd.push his cot around, slamming it into furniture. Or he'd bang his head on the wall. Once he smeared the contents of his nappy all over himself.

I already had a little boy, Michael, who was two years older, and never any trouble I couldn't work out where I'd gone wrong with Richard. I loved him, but he really was a little monster.

He started playschool but hated the other kids. He'd even smash their toys.

'He needs discipline!' people would tut at me. But telling him off did no good. I felt a failure as a mother.

The most frightening thing was that Richard seemed oblivious to danger.

At four, he climbed up on the bath, found the key to the medicine cabinet and got hold of my asthma tablets I don't know how many he swallowed, but we had to rush him to casualty.

The hospital became a second home to us. Over the years, Richard's swallowed 12 batteries, seven pennies and even safety pins.

He's even lodged crayons in his ears and had to have them surgically removed.

I hoped he might settle down as he got older, but his behaviour grew worse - he drilled holes in the dining- room table, ripped up books, broke our computer and pulled wallpaper off the walls I was wasting my breath scolding him - he never learnt.

The strange thing was he didn't remember what he'd done for hours. Then he'd realise he'd been naughty - and he'd come up for a cuddle - but 10 minutes later, he'd do it again.

'Why are you cross with me, Mummy?' he'd say, genuinely bewildered. I didn't know what to do.

When he started school, he was always in trouble for throwing tantrums. The teachers couldn't control him either - they thought he was doing it to get attention.

We agreed with the school to send him in part time. The rest of the time, we tried to teach him ourselves on a rented computer.

People would say 'Can't you keep that boy under control?' But I was doing my best.

Eventually, I went to my GP He sent Richard to a child-guidance clinic, but they came up with nothing.

By this time, we had another son, Alan. He and Michael had to walk on eggshells not to upset Richard.

Last year, he started at a special school, where he'd get more attention. But after only three days, when another pupil upset him, he found a knife and held it to the child's throat. He was expelled.

I was horrified. I tried to talk to Richard about it, but he couldn't remember what he'd done. It was 24 hours before he realised - and then he cried his heart out. 'I don't know why I did it!' he sobbed. I was at my wits' end. What was I doing to make him do these things?

I went back to our GP and, this time, he referred Richard to a consultant.

'Richard has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD),' he explained to us.

It was due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Richard's poor short term memory meant he didn't know how naughty he was being and never learnt.

It was such a relief knowing he wasn't just a very naughty child. It wasn't our fault, and he could be helped.

Today, Richard attends a special unit with other kids with emotional and behavioural problems.

The medication he takes - ritalin - helps his memory but doesn't control his behaviour. He still has tantrums.

Sometimes I think I can't go on like this. But inevitably I cope. Richard's my child. And, although I hate the monster within him, I love him to pieces.

Sarah-Jayne Bass (formerly Caroline Hensby), 34

Michaela's Story

Bracing myself, I knocked on the headmistress' door. What was it going to be this time? Hitting other kids? I walked in.

'Mrs McCarthy,' she said. 'It's about James again, I'm afraid. He's uncontrollable.'

My heart sank as she launched into details of the latest incident. One of James' violin strings had snapped, and he'd thrown a tantrum. He'd chucked the 200 violin across the classroom and frightened the other kids. Five members of staff had to restrain him.

I wondered where I'd gone wrong with James. He was an only child, and Jeff, his dad, and I had showered him with love and attention.

'Please give him another chance,' I begged.

The headmistress agreed, but said it was the last time.

When I collected him from school that evening, I could feel my ears burning. I'm sure the other mothers hated James for disrupting their kids' classes.

It's strange because James had been such a good baby It was only when he turned two, that I thought something might be wrong.

At playschool, he didn't get on with other kids. The kiddy tantrums became worse. When James wanted something, he'd stamp his feet and roar.

'I can't take him anywhere!' I told Jeff 'He starts screeching and people stare.'

I read somewhere that food could affect behaviour, so I banned chocolate and checked labels for E numbers. It didn't work.

Once James had something in his head he just wouldn't let go. He became obsessed with women's shoes because of the clattering sound they made. If I took him near a shoe shop, he'd want to try on every pair. If I didn't let him, there'd be a tantrum.

When he was asleep, I'd look at his innocent face in awe. It was hard to believe he could be such a little horror.

When he was four, I took him to the doctor. We were lucky to be referred to a leading paediatrician, Dr Geoff Kewley. After tests, Dr Kewley told me that James was displaying symptoms of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder - or ADHD. But Dr Kewley said it could be treated.

It took a while to find the right medication, but now, at seven, his concentration is better and he's not nearly as defiant as before. He's even doing well at school.

Unfortunately, the strain of it all affected my relationship with Jeff and we split up.

But I'm glad James' condition was recognised. I dread to think how he could have ended up without treatment.

He still has the odd tantrum and he's no angel, but then, what kid is?

Michaela McCarthy, 31, from Norbury

ADD or just plain naughty?
Not all experts agree that Attention Deficit Disorder exists. Some claim it's just an excuse for bad behaviour and a lack of discipline. Certainly, it's difficult to prove a child has the condition. But, according to paediatrician Dr.Geoff Kewley, ADD is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and is more widespread than people think.

Features: Mark Christy/Geraldine Sheridan. Photos: Fixed Fotos/Press Gang.

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