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ADD/ADHD - Thanet ADDers

Article In The Evening Standard - 9th December 1997

Terror of the tantrums

While Home Secretary Jack Straw targets lawless youths, a growing number of experts believe some juvenile delinquents simply cannot control themselves - and suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD). Simon Hensby tells ALICE VINCENT about life with his 13-year-old son, Richard, who was diagnosed with the condition after pulling a knife on a classmate

IT'S like walking on eggshells. You are constantly on your guard, always looking over your shoulder. To be honest, there's a constant tension because the slightest thing might set Richard off into a tantrum. He will rip his clothes, bang his head or drop to the floor and writhe around. Sometimes he'll run away or dash in front of cars, and on one occasion he set fire to the carpet and wrecked the house. For the past 10 years I have been sleeping fully dressed in a sleeping bag on the couch because Richard gets up very early - any time after midnight - and I have to be ready in case he runs out of the door - or tries to burn the house down.

Until 1988 I was working in the City as an insurance broker. When Richard was four I had to give up work because my wife, Caroline, couldn't cope. She was constantly ringing me to come home early because Richard had run off or was having a tantrum. As he got bigger he became harder to control, so three years ago I gave up my business and became his 24-hour carer. Last year Richard was diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

His schooling has been erratic because of his disrup- tive behaviour. An educational psychologist said he should go to a special needs school, but after three days there he was expelled for holding a knife to a boy's throat during a home economics lesson.

We fully agreed with the school's decision to expel him, but Richard didn't fully recall the incident for 24 hours or more, which indicated to us that something was definitely not right. This was the catalyst for his diagnosis.

We had been to see experts: doctors, child psychologists, consultants - but no one could find anything wrong with Richard. Then, after the expulsion, our GP referred us to a paediatrician who talked to and watched Richard, went through his records and diag- nosed him as having ADHD.

It was that quick, after all those years. When we came out of that consultant's room we were stunned. We felt euphoric - someone had found that there was something wrong medically. It was such a relief because now we knew it hadn't been down to us.

Richard was put on medica- tion, ritalin, which stimulates the part of the brain that is inactive. The treatment hasn't necessarily helped with his behaviour but it has improved his concentration, which has helped his schoolwork. Although Richard is really bright - he's a whizz on the computer and has even got his own web site on the Internet- his educational standard is that of a nine-year-old because of his special needs.

After he was expelled I taught him at home for a few months and then he was offered a place at a nearby special-needs unit. I go there with him every day because he can still go off at a tangent. The last time he ran away was a couple of weeks ago when he was finding a maths lesson difficult. When he can't handle a situation his instinct is to run. He got upset, ripped his maths book and ran straight out of the front door. I ended up driving around the streets for an hour and a half before I found him.

When Richard has a tantrum his face goes red and his eyes glaze, as if he doesn't know what is going on. He gets very hot and sweaty, like he's having a fit. He gets so upset that afterwards he cries and cries.

You can't leave anything lying around. We don't have any alcohol in the house because once Richard managed to unlock our drinks cabinet and started drinking gin. He still has a tendency to cut lumps of his hair out, really getting down to his scalp.

His outlandish behaviour almost made us social outcasts. We are rarely invited anywhere and it was difficult for Richard to make friends because if he has a tantrum and breaks a toy, the parents just don't want him around. We got the label of being bad parents who couldn't control our son. We knew this wasn't true because we have two other boys, aged 15 and 11, who are well behaved.

Despite being 13, Richard can't go out on his own or with friends like you would expect children of his age to, which seems unfair. Life is also tough on our other boys. We are con- stantly aware of Richard, and if he wants attention we give it to him, otherwise we get a tantrum.

Some people still don't believe in ADHD. They just think Richard is a naughty boy. It doesn't bother us any more because we just think how ignorant they are. We have really had to detach ourselves. Caroline and I have been married for 16 years but it was a real strain before Richard's condition was diagnosed. We were at each other's throats, constantly arguing. But now we can understand and accept his condition.

Since I gave up work we have had to survive on income support. We've become satisfied with what we've got. Anyway, it's a waste of money buying nice things because with Richard around, things get damaged.

He is really learning now. He's got this tremendous energy and if he can learn to channel it, he can achieve anything.

What causes the condition

ATTENTION deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is believed to be caused by a lack of activity in the frontal lobule section of the brain, due to a chemical imbalance.

Symptoms include irrational and often violent behaviour, inability to concentrate for more than a few moments and being fidgety and restless. Sufferers often have poor short-term memory and boundless energy. Hyperactive children may benefit from less sugar in their diet and respond best to predictable schedules with rules reinforced at home and in the classroom.

Attention deficit disorder is the same condition but without the hyperactive characteristic. Around five per cent of schoolchildren suffer from ADD. Sufferers are often distant, find it hard to concentrate and are frequently labelled as just plain lazy.

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