Teachers not qualified to diagnose ADHD, Election not just a two-horse race and others

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Teachers are not qualified to diagnose ADHD in children

Teachers are not qualified to diagnose ADHD in children

Sir: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is difficult to cope with, both as a professional and as a parent, and I endorse Dr Seton-Browne's and Peter Coghlan's view (letters, 7 April) that for these children the appropriate use of medication (combined with other modes of help) can be justified.

However, ADHD is still poorly understood by the teaching profession at large and its use in mislabelling "unruly children" bears scrutiny. In our case, our energetic son entered a quintessentially middle-class area primary school and was quickly held to be a disruptive influence by an entry class teacher who argued that he had the "classic" symptoms of ADHD and wanted him to be referred to a school psychiatrist for confirmation of diagnosis and, presumably, treatment.

Having worked in central nervous system drug research myself (and understanding some of the problems associated with psychotropic use in children), and my wife being a senior social worker with experience of working with truly disturbed children, we were naturally horrified, especially since we had seen no evidence of this behaviour at home.

Fortunately, with the help of an enlightened GP, referral of my son to an educational specialist shortly diagnosed that his problem was severe dyslexia, coupled to a high IQ, which manifested as frustration that he could not grasp reading skills etc. Once my son understood why he couldn't read easily, his so-called problematic behaviour at school disappeared and, with external help from the Dyslexia Institute, he has largely resolved his educational deficit and I am proud to say is held as an exemplar by his current school.

My concern is that some parents will accept teaching staff as experts in this area, when the fact is that they patently do not have the training to fully diagnose the condition and can use the label of ADHD to cover their own inadequacies in getting to the root of a child's problem behaviour.

Winchester, Hampshire

Election is not just a two-horse race

Sir: Many people I know say that at the coming general election they will not be voting because "All the parties are the same". This is not true. Certainly the main parties follow similar agendas, largely dictated by global economic orthodoxy, but the smaller parties do offer distinctive policies. Unfortunately the news media (including the BBC, which ought to have a sense of public service in this area) effectively silence these contrary voices. I hope that we can take it that The Independent will live up to its name and report widely on the doings of the Green Party, Respect, the Socialist Party, etc. If faith in the democratic system is not to dwindle entirely it is vital to show that there are alternatives worthy of people's votes.

Fife, Scotland

Sir: On Monday, Marie Woolf interviews Charles Kennedy in Luton South, an "almost exclusively Asian neighbourhood", which he says is "a barometer for what people should be watching out for" at the election. In view of this, one might have expected your Election Special (6 April) to portray the British electorate in slightly more colourful terms.

However, there is no mention of "ethnic minority" voters. Doing a survey of those who have their photos (with their names) in that day's paper, I counted 60 white males and 15 white females. Apart from a Fijian golfer, there are no Asians. Apart from an obituary for an Afro-American, there is a picture of Rio Ferdinand and, of course, of Michael Jackson, who could perhaps be called "black".

May I suggest that some at least of our ethnic minorities might be intelligent enough not only to vote Liberal Democrat but even to notice the no doubt unintentional racist (and sexist) bias of this excellent paper!


Sir: "Labour lead falls away as Blair announces poll date" (5 April). Are we to believe that the British electorate wishes to see the current economic stability and the increased standard of living buried in the sands of Iraq?

Will they really return to power a Conservative government who gave us over three million unemployed, a 15 per cent bank rate and the beef crisis? And thought it fair to give tax cuts to the rich and very rich and divorce the state pension from average earnings (an act currently costing every single pensioner in Britain £30 per week and every couple £50). They also believed the Poll Tax to be a good idea and that railways would be more efficient and cheaper to run if privatised.

Hales, Norfolk

Sir: There seems to be a belief among the power-brokers of New Labour that in the end fear of Michael Howard and the Tories will drive us back in desperation to Tony Blair as the only credible alternative to another dose of Tory government.

Well let me disabuse them. As a left-of-centre supporter, with the emphasis on left, I'd rather vote for Howard than Blair. Blair is to me a liar, an opportunist and a betrayer of the values of our party. I thought I'd never hate a politician as much as I hated Margaret Thatcher; I was wrong, I hate Blair more.

At least with Thatcher and her heir, Howard, I would know what to expect and I'd know that they'd look after their own. With Blair all I'd expect is the further denial of any form of socialism, the lack of respect for the working-class and for public sector workers and, when it suits him, a dishonest and immoral war.

So to John Reid and all the other Blair apologists, I say again: I'd rather vote for Howard than Blair, and in reality I shall abstain for the first time since I was given the vote in 1967.

Oakham, Rutland

Legacy of the Pope

Sir: The contraception doctrine - the only serious evil unique to Catholicism - was restated in 1968 by Paul VI's Humanae Vitae; but the late John Paul was a key author. In 1964, Pope Paul formed a Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control, charged with finding a way to change the Church's position on contraception without undermining papal authority. After two years, the Commission concluded - by 60-4 laymen and 9-6 clerics - that even though papal authority would suffer, the doctrine should be changed anyway, because it was right.

But a minority report, co-authored by one Karol Wojtyla, dissented, arguing that: "If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, we should have to concede that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestants in 1930 [the year when the Anglican Church first allowed contraception and when Casti Connubii was published]. Church leaders would have condemned, under pain of eternal damnation, thousands of innocent human acts, now declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants". This conflicted with the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.

So this crime against women, the poor and the planet only persists to protect, not sexual mores, but the preposterous claim to Infallibility, invented hastily in 1870 to deter revolutionary troops from storming the Vatican. It has no more divine legitimacy than the Anglican Church's origins in Henry VIII's marital affairs.

Wells, Somerset

Sir: Deborah Orr (Opinion, 5 April) asks whether we are hypocrites to mourn the late Pope, when so many of us failed to observe his teachings.

The warm feelings shared by so many people acknowledge the inspiration that he gave to so many, of all faiths and of none, to live better lives. It's hard to be good, but having people like Karol Wojtyla around made it easier. It's not hypocritical to be grateful for that. This week has seen some absurd accusations placed at his door (blamed for millions dying in Africa), but I am sure he would have seen the funny side of being linked with Stalinism (Joan Smith, Opinion, 6 April).

Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire

Sir: I find J A A Johnson's conception of prayer (letter, 6 April) bizarre. It is the duty of Christians to pray for all people, regardless of status, rank or wealth. There is no "deserving of prayer" list, nor is there any indication in the Gospels that the poor and disadvantaged are more deserving of prayer than the rich. It is the belief of Christians that none of us "deserved" the sacrifice of Jesus Christ - it was a gift of love, regardless of our virtue or lack of it.

Unless we were inhabiting the mind and soul of the Pope it would be impossible to know what his needs were at the time he was preparing for death. Therefore it is entirely appropriate that we should pray for him as we pray for all the sick, dying and dead.

London E17

ExxonMobil riposte

Sir: Contrary to what Dr Russel-Jones says (letter, 6 April). ExxonMobil takes the issue of climate change seriously and is actively working to address the risks it poses. Our actions include substantially reducing carbon dioxide emissions from our operations; investigating new approaches to internal combustion technology, and researching developments such as hydrogen powered fuel cells that offer the potential for zero vehicle emissions.

We are also sponsoring a major groundbreaking project at Stanford to research new technologies, including renewables, which will substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Manager, UK & Ireland Public Affairs, ExxonMobil
Leatherhead, Surrey

Israeli waste plans

Sir: Israel's expansion of settlements in the Palestinian hinterland of Jerusalem and its proposed dumping of waste on Palestinian lands near Nablus (reports, 5 April) will have their own predictable consequence: Palestinians will again resort to violence.

And who can blame them? In 1996 the EU gave Israel privileged trade terms, one condition being respect for human rights. Doubtless Western leaders will once again condemn Palestinian terrorism, but the real condemnation must be of them, who have never taken substantive action to defend Palestinian rights since Israel first bulldozed the medieval Maghrebi Quarter of Jerusalem in July 1967. In another context the failure to stand up to ethnic bullies was rightly called appeasement.

Richmond, Surrey

Sir: Israel's plan to dump garbage in the West Bank is not a one-off. Already Israeli settlements allow their sewage to run off down the hills, frequently towards Palestinian villages, and also polluting valuable water supplies. Palestinian Bedouin were even forcibly moved next to the huge Jerusalem municipal garbage dump in the West Bank, where they were forced to live in ship containers. This is therefore one case in a long history of Israel showing total contempt for the West Bank environment.

Director, Council for Arab-British Understanding
London EC4

Climb every mountain

Sir: The first time my family walked up Snowdon, I had to bribe my wife, who suffered from vertigo, with the promise of a champagne meal in the restaurant at the top ("The highest slum in Wales", 5 April). That vision guided her up screes and over ravines until we got to the summit. Imagine my shame when we reached that bleak concrete box. It took years to live down! We should have gone walking in Switzerland instead. There, magnificent catering facilities, at moderate cost, adorn many peaks and enhance the whole experience.

Sittingbourne, Kent

Leave the car at home

Sir: John Walsh ("Mad as hell, and I can't drive it anymore", 7 April) claims his experience with a London traffic warden shows that the city is losing its heart. What petrolhead tosh! We visited London last week, travelling with cheap travelcards on buses and Tubes that arrived quickly and travelled swiftly. We even got a reduction for a delightful river journey from one Tate Gallery to another. Of course, unlike Mr Walsh, we left our car at home.


Legal challenge

Sir: The headline "Judge overrules Brussels ban on vitamins" (6 April) is completely inaccurate. What you were attempting to describe is an Opinion, not a decision, given by the Advocate General, who is not a judge. The Advocate General has advised the European Court of Justice what he thinks should happen, and it is entirely up to the Court whether it follows that advice or not.

An example of an equivalent inaccuracy in reporting the proceedings in an English court would be "Prosecutor finds accused guilty".

Lecturer in Law,
University of the West of England,

Perils of eavesdropping

Sir: I gather from Philip Hensher's excellent piece, "What we really think of royal watchers" (2 April), that the BBC had "bugged" the Royal princes by leaving microphones "at their feet". Isn't there a proverb about listeners hearing no good of themselves?

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Look - no hands

Sir: No wonder Andrew Pring takes the train from Leeds to London each day instead of going by car (letter, 7 April). It may beat driving hands down, but everyone knows that the correct position is "ten to two". I hope the train has power steering.

London N11

A heavenly date

Sir: Mr Blair has chosen to hold the general election on Ascension Day. Should one read anything into this?

Greengates, West Yorkshire