Troubled children are not offered right sort of help

Emma Seith & Nicola Porter

Children traumatised by abuse and neglect often receive inappropriate treatment because they are misdiagnosed as suffering from ADHD or bipolar disorder, according to an American expert.

Counselling sessions and medication are also largely ineffective for the treatment of abused children because the area of the brain affected does not respond to talking, said Bruce Perry, from the Child Trauma Academy in Texas. But less conventional methods - such as yoga, massage and music therapy - will have more success.

Mr Perry said abused children are more likely to have physical health problems and suffer from heart disease, asthma and diabetes. However, there is also impact on the brain that makes them more likely to be inattentive, have trouble sleeping and problems learning.

"It might look like attention deficit disorder," said Dr Perry, who recently visited Scotland to share his knowledge with a range of professionals - including teachers.

Dr Perry has counselled traumatised children from the Waco siege in Texas in 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Columbine school shootings, and has spent the past 10 years developing innovative clinical practices and programmes by working with maltreated and traumatised children.

He said the abuse must have stopped and the children must feel safe for his methods to work.

But counselling sessions - a move being pursued in Wales as part of the school-based counselling - are not effective.

"The part of the brain that is impacted by trauma is not a section of the brain easily influenced or changed by talking," Mr Perry said.

"It is responsive to pattern repetitive and rhythmic sensory experiences, such as therapeutic massage, music and movement - less conventional interventions."

Dr Perry said the treatment of traumatised children is further compounded by our systems that are not set up to help youngsters heal or develop.

"Ideally, every child should have four significant adults guiding their development," he said.

"For about seven hours every day in school there is one developmentally mature individual - a teacher to 25 and up to 30 pupils. We are not creating a healthy environment for children who have been maltreated to heal in."

Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of the National Association of Special Educational Needs, said that misdiagnosis was also a concern for schools in Wales and the rest of the UK. She also said teachers could do with more training.

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Emma Seith & Nicola Porter

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