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Spotlight on attention deficit disorders

Up to 60 per cent of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are likely to be two years behind in their reading and up to 30 per cent may have specific learning difficulties, a seminar in East Renfrewshire heard last week.

The council is believed to be one of the first to establish a policy for the education and care of children with the disorder, which affects up to 1 per cent of pupils.

Janette Drummond, a learning support teacher based in the Yorkhill Trust's department of child and family psychiatry, who revealed the figures, called for behaviour management strategies and suggested: "Praise the positive and ignore the negative."

Joyce Barton, senior lecturer in the same department, scotched the myth that the disorder was "something we have created in the last few years to explain away bad parenting". Attention deficit and hyperactivity had been described in detail in the early 1900s.

Evidence suggested that two-thirds of sufferers had problems into adulthood and were educational underachievers. Dr Barton told the seminar: "They go from being lonely children to isolated adults and may develop serious personality problems. The message is that ADHD is a genuine disorder, has a pathological basis and can be detected early on and treated."

She added: "As professionals it is our responsibility to look after these children and with their families to try to help them achieve their potential. "

Dr Barton said the three main features were motor overactivity, impaired attention span and impulsiveness. Secondary complications included low esteem and depression. Boys appeared to be more prone and no one knew precisely what caused the disorder. It involved genetic factors and the chemistry and physiology of the brain.

A typical remark by parents was: "It is the red Smarties which make him behave like that." Dr Barton said: "There is a vast amount of literature about this. It is fair to say the evidence is inconclusive that diet causes ADHD."

Children could become hyperactive in the classroom because of specific learning difficulties. "The problem is to separate ADHD from conduct disorder which might be prompted by an overwhelming event such as a death in the family or a change of school."

Eleanor Currie, East Renfrewshire's director of education, told the seminar: "There is no question of being absolutely right in such a delicate area but we want to do our best."

Joyce Miller, the mother of a 14-year-old boy with ADHD, pleaded for professional help to identify children at an early age. "Without an appropriate label these children are just lost luggage."

She admitted it was not accepted teaching practice to label children but parents needed help. "These families don't have a life, they exist. Visiting friends, socialising is absolutely impossible."

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