'Naughty child syndrome' costs taxpayers £170m in DLA benefit.
by GLEN OWEN, JUNE 2006
Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is being paid to families of children suffering from the condition dubbed 'naughty child syndrome' - even though many experts say it does not exist.
Parents who have a child diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can claim disability benefits of up to £10,000 a year, a situation which some doctors believe is fuelling an astonishing rise in the number said to have the syndrome.
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The Government says 345,000 children aged between six and 16 suffer from the disorder - meaning a doctor has attributed their disruptiveness to a medical condition rather than just bad behaviour or poor parenting.
ADHD was almost unheard of 20 years ago but the number of prescriptions for Ritalin - the controversial drug which suppresses symptoms of hyperactivity - has rocketed from 2,000 in 1991 to 329,000 last year.
Ministers and the Department for Work and Pensions say they do not know what proportion of the annual £8.6 billion disability allowance budget is devoted to ADHD sufferers. But Professor Eric Taylor, one of the country's leading experts on the syndrome, told the Mail on Sunday he estimated around one in 20 of the families who attended his clinic were receiving benefits for the condition.
They can pick up a disability living allowance of up to £5,350 a year, a carer's allowance of up to £2,376 a year and a disabled child tax credit of £2,300 a year.
If replicated across England and Wales, the figures from Professor Taylor, head of the Child Psychiatry Department at King's College, London, would mean more than 17,000 families claiming up to £170 million.
There are no medical tests for ADHD. Instead, children are diagnosed on the basis of their behaviour and questionnaires asking parents if a child is displaying symptoms of restlessness and fidgeting.
Critics say ADHD should never have been acknowledged as a genuine medical condition and accuse doctors of complicity in the 'mass drugging' of a generation of children.
Ritalin is an amphetamine-based stimulant, nicknamed the 'chemical cosh'. Its side-effects include loss of appetite, insomnia and unresponsiveness. US research also suggests it may cause depression later in life.
Dr Sami Timimi, a consultant and adolescent psychiatrist at Lincolnshire NHS Trust, said: "There is no evidence to suggest there is a medical condition called ADHD.
"It is a cultural concept, which is creating a market in various labels. Families will go to a doctor and if he or she doesn't believe in ADHD they can find another one who will. There's money in it. I have a problem with disability allowance being given for this diagnosis.'
Priscilla Alderson, who is Professor of Childhood Studies at London University, said: "There has been a very rapid increase in the alleged incidence of ADHD, but instead of kneejerk diagnosis, people should look at the changes in society that have contributed to it, including longer school days, children spending less time at home with families and reduced opportunities for them to let off steam by playing outside.
"Some of these teenagers are being hit with Asbos, which restricts their movement even further and makes them even more badly behaved."
Tory health spokesman Tim Loughton called for an end the 'diagnosis and drug' approach to disruptive children.
He said: "My concern is with the enormous increase in the prescription of Ritalin, which is a powerful chemical to give young children. A lot more should be done to examine alternative therapies."
The Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that £861 million was spent on disability allowances for children last year - which is more than double the £411 million figure from a decade ago.
A spokeswoman said: "ADHD does not automatically entitle someone to disability benefits. Disability living allowance is based on individual need and the effect of a disability on someone's mobility and care needs, not on a particular diagnosis. A diagnosis of ADHD should not be made without detailed psychiatric evaluation or involvement of a mental health team.'
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