Sunday, 25 March, 2001, 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK
Hyperactivity under the spotlight
A major conference, starting in London on Monday, plans to tackle the issues surrounding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
It is the first main European conference on ADHD since the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued its guidelines on the controversial drug treatment Ritalin last October.
NICE ruled that the drug could be prescribed on the NHS to children who were diagnosed as having serious hyperactivity problems.
About 5% of school children in England and Wales are thought to be suffering from ADHD and about 400 experts, parents and teachers are thought to be going to the three-day conference.
The conference will tackle the thorny issue of whether ADHD is a bona fide medical condition - this has been disputed by sceptics who say it may simply be that some children are over-boisterous.
Experts will also be investigating claims untreated ADHD can lead to a downward spiral of disadvantage, a life of crime and drug addiction.
The effectiveness of Ritalin will also come under the microscope.
Children with the severest forms of the condition are often prescribed Ritalin to combat their problems.
But some experts have criticised what they call the over-use of medication and in particular Ritalin, both in the UK and US.
Psychiatrist Dr Peter Breggin, founder of the International Centre for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology and author of Toxic Psychiatry, said Ritalin is too widely prescribed.
"I think it is a tragedy that Great Britain is following in the footsteps of the United States and continuing the wide-scale drugging of its children.
"All Ritalin can do is to suppress the behaviour."
Dr Breggin said there were currently a number of legal suits against Ritalin pending in the States.
Conference organiser Andrea Bilbow, herself the parent of a teenager with ADHD, admits Ritalin prescriptions are on the increase, but said this is because more and more children are being diagnosed, rather than it being over prescribed.
"I think it is just a storm in a tea-cup," she said.
Ms Bilbow said the real aim of the conference was to raise awareness of ADHD and to ensure that experts and parents are aware of the condition and can quickly identify and treat sufferers.
"We have woken the profession up by raising awareness.
"We are offering practical support for people at the conference.
"AHDH is a condition that is best dealt with by a multi-agency approach."