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It's almost as if he's learned the way to behave

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: long words for bad behaviour or the description of a complex neurological condition, cured by a mood-changing drug? Wendy Wallace reports. Debbie Demosthenis from Bognor Regis, West Sussex, has two children, a 15-year-old daughter and a son Bobby, now aged five. Bobby (right) has been diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by Dr Geoff Kewley, and is on Ritalin. The diagnosis and treatment have changed the child's life, and the life of the whole family, says his mother.

"I had a dreadful struggle with Bobby from when he started to string words together and walk. People said 'he's just a boy'. But he wasn't just a boy. He had terrific temper tantrums, throwing himself and his toys against the wall, hurting himself, hitting people. As he grew older, it got worse.

"He started at playgroup at three, and I told them he would be difficult. They bent over backwards to accommodate him but he had to have one-to-one attention. He couldn't be left unattended with other children - he'd just attack them if they had a toy that he wanted. He'd lunge at anybody, and he was quite big for his age.

"They got an educational psychologist in, and she said he was awkward, and we'd have to cope. Then we went to a behavioural therapist, and he told us it was our parenting. But Bobby was brought up just like our daughter, who had none of these problems. I'm a confident person, but it nearly knocked me off my feet to be told it was our parenting. We had a counsellor visiting us at home for six months and we did change our parenting, willingly, but to no avail. It just didn't work. I'd go to bed at night and think 'whatever is going to happen tomorrow?' "At home, he was impossible. He was spiteful to the dogs. He chased the horse round the field, got kicked full in the stomach, then five minutes later he was back in the field doing the same thing again. One morning he let himself out of the house, with the dog, at 5am and the police picked him up on the seafront. When my husband went to collect him from the police station he was doing the hoovering. He was three-and-a-half.

"When it was time for him to transfer to reception, the head came to see him in the nursery, and was confident that she could manage. But when I went to collect him after he had been at school for three days she said he'd hit his class teacher and she'd been in touch with the county and was going to have to exclude him. He wasn't even five.

"A friend had seen Dr Kewley on the television and I'd been in touch with him and was waiting to see him. I thought there was some hope there, and I begged the head to keep him until we'd seen Dr Kewley, which she did. They had him in school for two-and-a-half hours, three mornings a week.

"We got to Dr Kewley's in August last year, when Bobby was almost five. By that time he'd already tried to light fires and steal things. I couldn't even dream of taking him to the supermarket, he'd just run riot. He was notorious in Bognor. At the clinic, they said that he had severe ADHD, with oppositional conduct disorder. And we came home armed with Ritalin. I'd already read all the bad things and all the good things about it. Dr Kewley left it entirely up to our discretion. We put him on it, and we haven't looked back.

"You can reason with him now. And it's improved his quality of life no end. He's not continually being told off. He can play for half an hour or an hour with one thing now, whereas before he'd go from one unfinished thing to another, and leave a trail of destruction behind him. His speech was terrible, now it's perfect. "He's reading, writing, doing his numbers, it's lovely to see. He would have been in a special school by now.

"He has one dose at 8.30 in the morning, and another at 12.30. If I've got to go shopping or he's going to a party I'll give him another half a tablet after school.

"There were a few problems at first - he was about two hours later going to bed at night, and he had an appetite loss for about three months. And he did go off into a world of his own at first, for a few minutes at a time. But that was when I was still juggling the dose. Now his appetite's back to normal and he goes to bed at night.

"In the last holidays, I didn't even use the Ritalin at all. It's almost as if he's learned the way to behave."

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