ADHD is a disorder affecting 3-5 per cent of school-aged children. If untreated, it leads to problems with learning, peer relationships, can cause depression, and increases the risk of addictions and conflicts with the law, doctors said at a press conference in Warsaw on Tuesday.

Early diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, they estimated, greatly increases the chances that a child will be able to avoid breaking the law, get a good education and succeed in life in the future. But for therapy to have the best effect, not only the parents but also the child’s teachers should be involved.

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is the most common developmental disorder. It is caused by changes in brain function that make it difficult for a child to control impulses, emotions and behaviour and to focus attention. It is more common in boys.

ADHD is usually diagnosed before the age of seven, but some specialists believe diagnosis is possible before the age of five or even two, said Professor Irena Namysłowska, national consultant in child and adolescent psychiatry.

As she recalled, a child with ADHD is characterised by excessive mobility, is often referred to as a living silver, spins, squirms, cannot sit in one place for too long, so it is difficult for him to stand in class, often gets up, leaves the classroom to go to the toilet.

According to the specialist, another symptom of this disorder is concentration problems. A child with ADHD cannot concentrate on tasks, skips some of the teacher’s instructions, is very inattentive – e.g. confuses a minus sign with a plus sign, and so on.

This is compounded by impulsivity. Children with ADHD cannot predict their actions, control their impulses, which can sometimes even be life-threatening, because, for example, a child cannot wait for a green light and may fall on the road straight under a car,’ Namysłowska pointed out.

The symptoms of ADHD are the cause of problems for the child with peers, the teaching community and conflicts within the family.

A child with this disorder has many emotional problems. He or she is disliked in class because he or she disrupts lessons, interrupts play or games, and sometimes becomes a scapegoat because peers quickly sense that he or she can be easily persuaded to do something unreasonable. Often it is suppressed by teachers because it is naughty and learns badly,” explained Namysłowska.

The situation within the family can also vary. Parents may blame either themselves or the child for parenting problems. They tell him or her that he or she is bad, that they have had enough of him or her, or they beat him or her,’ said Professor Tomasz Wolańczyk, head of the Department of Developmental Psychiatry at the Medical University of Warsaw.

This causes many ADHD patients to develop depressive disorders, anxiety, low self-esteem as they mature. Reflecting the poor mental state of people with the condition are the results of a study in which different people were asked the question: how often do you think your loved ones would be better off without you? In the group with ADHD, as many as 80 per cent answered that often, while among those without the condition it was only 10 per cent, Wolanczyk recalled.

According to him, the problems that a child with ADHD encounters on a daily basis can also lead to an increase in behavioural disorders – such as the use of violence, aggression and, consequently, conflicts with the law. They are 10 times more likely to become addicted to alcohol and drugs than the general population; they are also more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour and drop out of school earlier.

This can be prevented if the disorder is diagnosed early and comprehensive therapy is undertaken, experts stressed.

It is based on group psycho-educational workshops for children, as well as for parents. At these workshops, young patients learn how to cope with the symptoms of ADHD, with the feeling of helplessness in the face of what is happening to them, with the feeling of ineffectiveness, and acquire social skills, explained Małgorzata Święcicka, PhD, from the Department of Clinical Child and Family Psychology at the University of Warsaw. The idea is to build in the child a belief that he or she can cope with his or her behaviour, the specialist pointed out.

Parents, on the other hand, can learn in their classes that they are not alone in their parenting problems and can support each other. On the other hand, they also learn how to give instructions to their child in order to make them effective and that acceptance and praise can bring better results than irritation or punishment. The use of forceful methods aimed at subjugating the child often leads to the perpetuation of aggressive behaviour and the use of violence in contacts with other people, explained Święcicka.

In her opinion, it is also very important for the effects of therapy that the psychologist can establish contact with the child’s teacher.

As Wolańczyk stressed, the aim of therapy for a child with ADHD is not to eliminate or alleviate the symptoms in adult life. No child with ADHD can be cured, but it can be helped so that they get an education adequate to their abilities (they are often very intelligent – PAP), have a better opinion of themselves, do not have a history of conflicts with the law and do not fall out of their social function, the psychiatrist pointed out.

In his opinion, in order to improve the diagnosis and therapy of ADHD in Poland, there is a need to create a uniform system of care for children with behavioural disorders. Currently, there are only 150 child psychiatrists in the country, and the number of children with ADHD is estimated at 350,000. In the Podkarpackie voivodeship, there is only one specialist in this field. Among the reasons for this situation, the expert cited the fact that child psychiatry is difficult, mentally taxing and, on top of that, poorly paid.

According to Namysłowska, only a small percentage of children with ADHD require pharmacotherapy. In Poland, drugs containing one of the two chemicals approved for the treatment of ADHD (i.e. methylphenidate) are reimbursed. However, it does not work in all children and is poorly tolerated by some. There are no subsidies for the atomoxetine-containing drug for the time being, and as it is expensive, patients cannot afford to buy it on their own.(PAP)