Mal Fletcher comments on the overuse of drugs like Ritalin to medicate children's behaviour.

Mal Fletcher
Mal Fletcher

According to news reports, UK prescriptions for 'smart drugs' such as the stimulant Ritalin have doubled in a decade.

Some parents apparently use them to 'medicate' children's behaviour.

According to the head of Ofsted, the organisation charged with inspecting schools, the fact that such drugs are applied by a growing number of parents feels like "a very big warning signal."

Ritalin is methylphenidate and is often prescribed for children diagnosed with ADHD - attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

As its name suggests, this disorder often seems to leave children unable to control their behaviour. Its major symptoms include inattentiveness and impulsiveness.

Children with ADHD - most are diagnosed between the ages of six and 12 years - find it difficult to concentrate for any length of time. Some also have problems with sleep.

Methylphenidate belongs to a class of drugs known as stimulants. It has proven effective in increasing children's ability to pay attention and organise tasks. It is useful in helping to control childhood behavioural problems.

However, the numbers of children being given the drug suggest that in seeking out medical advice, some parents apparently hope for an ADHD diagnosis. It will offer an explanation for what appears to be inexplicable behaviour. It will also likely mean a drug prescription.

Some psychiatrists feel that the use of drugs like Ritalin is overdone.

Hyperactivity in children manifests in many ways. Kids may find it hard to stay focused on a task, getting bored easily. They may appear not to be listening when others are speaking to them.

They may make careless mistakes and have difficulty remembering things. Some will become overly aggressive toward other people, seemingly without provocation.

All of these symptoms are perhaps most evident in the classroom. For some children and their parents, drugs such as Ritalin definitely offer a life-line.

There are behavioural problems which require chemical treatment. Drugs are sometimes an important part of treating a child's difficulties. Parents need not feel that they are failing their children when that is the case.

However, there are times when symptoms of ADHD may also be exhibited for non-chemical reasons.