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Reporter meets eight-year-old with ADHD and his mum, Katie Boyle, of Borehamwood
Reporter Anna Slater met Borehamwood mum Katie Boyle, whose son, Aaron, eight, has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Aaron also has Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), which includes excessive, persistent anger and a difficulty in making friends. Children with the condition are hyperactive, have trouble focusing and can suffer from violent mood swings. Katie is determined not to give up on her son and is trying to raise awareness of his condition.
Aaron Lanceman loves playing hide and seek. Like any other boy his age, he hides in places only a child’s imagination could reveal – a kitchen cupboard, under the table, behind the cat.
He loves to skate too, ‘and I’m getting really good at it’, he tells me, his tiny face beaming with pride.
But the child holding up his Toy Story book asking to be read to before bed, is the same child who bit his mum’s finger when he couldn’t get a seat on the bus.
Aaron is not a naughty child. He is not the product of bad parenting and he is not a bully. Aaron has ADHD and ODD – two very real mental disorders that mean he struggles to control his emotions.
His mum, Katie, 25, is at rock bottom. She says he is her world, but he is a handful and it can sometimes be difficult to control his violent mood swings.
“Biting me is just one tiny part of it, but he does that regularly. He spits at me, kicks me and pulls my hair too”, she says, her tired eyes brimming with tears. “I took his dummy away from him when he was two and he got so frustrated, he broke my glasses. There is no bargaining with him.
“I had to dial 999 when he was younger because he physically restrained me against the wall. I didn’t know what to do – I was not prepared to lay a finger on my child.
“Going to Tesco is a nightmare because he just has tantrums and throws things off the shelves. I once caught him cleaning spilt lemonade with our cat's mouth. He thought it was funny; that's the thing about his condition, he's got no empathy.
“When he was a toddler I had to strap him into the pushchair securely because he would always run off when I was not looking. When he was too old for the pushchair, I had to buy baby-reins.”
Katie was 16-years-old when she fell pregnant with Aaron. Determined to give her son the best start in life, she vowed to be the best mother she could possibly be, no matter what.
At first, everything seemed perfect. She moved in with Aaron’s dad, joined mum and baby dance classes, and started a job at a supermarket.
But when Aaron was two and her relationship crumbled, she moved to Borehamwood, where she found herself isolated and alone.
“I just wanted to make friends – someone who could pop over for a quick cup of tea – but I had nobody.
“Everyone around me was judgmental. They saw a young looking girl with a badly behaved baby and thought I was a typical teenage mum who bit off more than she could chew. I used to get taunts on the street.
“I wanted to prove them wrong by carving a good life for myself, but as Aaron’s behaviour grew worse and worse I began to wonder whether they were right.”
Aaron started at Merryfield School, Theobold Street, in 2009 and an educational psychologist suggested he might have ADHD – but a firm diagnosis could not be made until he turned six.
But by this point, Katie was at breaking point. She was growing thinner by the second, rarely slept and was constantly plagued with stress-related infections.
When Aaron was finally diagnosed with ADHD and ODD in January 2011, he was started on drugs to control his mood swings and Katie decided to start a teaching course at college.
Today, the medication only does so much to manage his temper tantrums and it begins to wear off at around 5pm – but Katie is taking every day as it comes.
“He is like Jekyll and Hyde. Some days he can be as good as gold and it makes you wonder – but then he turns violent again. Whatever happens, he is still my boy and I love him.”
Aaron sits beside me and hands me a present – an orange balloon with two marbles inside – and asks me if I know Santa Claus.
I giggle – but then his face turns sombre: “I always try to be a good boy for Santa, but my friend told me his mum said I can’t play with him anymore because I have behaviour problems.”
And then his attention shifts to something else. “Do you want to see the toy car I made out of clay? It’s really cool”, he says, before darting off to the kitchen to find said car.
Katie rolls her eyes in laughter, but then her smile turns serious. Last year, she enrolled in him a special school for kids with mental health issues – but he keeps getting suspended for bad behaviour.
As a result, she is constantly forced to take time away from her job as a teaching assistant at Merryfield Primary School – a job she is incredibly proud of.
“It is frustrating. Not many teachers understand ADHD or ODD so it is a constant battle. I am really lonely, but am looking into how I can get support for this.
“I can’t even take Aaron to the park because all of the other kids make fun of him. They say his behaviour is bad – but that hurts his feelings and makes him even angrier.
“My child is not physically disabled but he is not always recognised as a mentally disabled - so where does he stand? I am looking to get him some counselling.
“I can hardly leave him alone. My day-to-day life is not normal. The other day I went to the toilet in McDonalds and when I came out, I caught him talking to a woman. He told her everything - where we live, our full names, ages - things like that can be very dangerous.
“I cannot leave him alone for even a second. He has no level of fear.
“I just do not want people to treat Aaron like a disease. I hate it when people cross the road when they see us. They think I am a bad parent.
“Aaron is a normal boy with a few mental problems but I am not embarrassed about him at all.”
In recent years, many experts have criticized the diagnosis of ADHD, with some saying it does not exist and others believing the children will grow out of their naughty behaviour.
It is clear from my meeting with Katie and Aaron that he is more than just a naughty child. That ADHD is real. And more importantly, that Aaron is just a normal boy who wants to play hide and seek and go to the skate park with his friends.