'I couldn't control my temper before. Now I can'

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The Independent Online
Jenny Missen knew she had an unusual baby before James was born. Even in her womb, he could not keep still for a moment. "I'd had two already, so I knew something unusual was going on." Once he was born, "you'd give him to someone to hold and he'd crawl up their shoulder." But when the four-year-old James went to nursery, Jenny, who is a classroom assistant in a primary school, knew she had a problem.

"He couldn't sit down for a moment, or conform to what the other children were doing. He'd throw sand about, and if he wanted to go somewhere he'd knock over anyone who was in the way. He had no regard for the consequences of anything."

When he started at infant school, the reception teacher told Jenny that he was not listening to a word, always fiddling, careering about the classroom, knocking over books and other children as he went.

Jenny and her husband John went to the child guidance clinic, where the education psychologist started trying to find a family trauma. "But there hasn't been a trauma. She was almost saying: what have you done to him?"

The psychiatrist wanted to have three long sessions with both parents before even seeing James.

The clinic suggested a special school. The Missens and James's teacher were outraged and turned the idea down. Instead, the school obtained a statement of special needs which entitled him to six hours' individual support a week. But by the time he was seven the situation was getting out of control. "Every afternoon before going to collect him, I got this cold feeling in my stomach, 'What am I going to be told today?'" Usually he had hurt someone, or got into a fight during the lunch break. Once he had seen a wasp on the window and thrown a heavy missile at it, smashing the window.

Then, in October 1994, Jenny read about ADD. She asked her GP to refer James to the Learning Assessment Centre, where in February last year Dr Geoffrey Kewley diagnosed ADD and offered Ritalin.

The day James took his first tablet, "the house was sort of quiet". The Missens realised how much stress they had been under. "He always had a nice personality, underneath it all, and I was really concerned about changing that. But he still had the smile and the cheek. Only he was quiet, and he listened to what was said to him."

She is angry that the professionals did not give him effective help earlier. "When you read the educational psychologist's report it screams ADD but they did not recognise it."

James says the tablets help him work and concentrate. "I couldn't control my temper before. Now I can, mostly."

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