The mainland's first nationwide education campaign to raise awareness about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) kicked off in several cities last week .
Children's ADHD care weeks, organised by the paediatric branch of the Chinese Medical Association, will be held at 40 hospitals in 20 mainland cities this year, with more than 200 mainland experts providing free consultations and health education.
Beijing Anding Hospital vice-president Dr Zheng Yi said the most common misconception about ADHD children affected by it do not have a real disorder, with parents viewing their children as just naughty or mischievous. Many parents think the disorder will disappear naturally as their child grows up. 'And parents who do want to take children to see doctors are often confused about which department they should head to,' he said. 'Even general paediatric doctors who suspect that a child has ADHD have no idea [where] they should transfer [the child] to.'
Zheng, who is also a member of the executive committee of the International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions, said there were only 300 to 500 doctors on the mainland who specialised in paediatric psychiatry.
ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders and its symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behaviour, and hyperactivity. What causes it is still a mystery but it's four times more common in boys than in girls.
Zheng said no nationwide surveys had been conducted but small studies in different regions had estimated 5 per cent of mainland children aged between six and 15 had ADHD, on a par with international levels.
However, four-fifths of children affected on the mainland never visited hospital for treatment, he said.
Dr Jin Xingming , from the Shanghai Children's Medical Centre, said most parents were concerned about the side-effects of drugs used to treat the condition, which can curb children's appetites. 'Every family has only one child and parents can't stand to see their child eat just a little,' she said. '[So] parents tend to stop giving children the drugs if their symptoms improve even slightly.'
Jin said the ADHD care weeks had been launched to allow more children with the disorder to be diagnosed and receive treatment earlier.
'There is such a high frequency among kids; on the other hand it is curable if patients follow standardised therapy,' she said. 'Without affective treatment, it's more likely such children will do things harmful to society when they grow up.'
Zheng said a study he had conducted of 670 adolescents in several juvenile prisons across the country in 2009 had found that 31 per cent of them had ADHD. And without timely therapy, the symptoms of 60 per cent of children with ADHD will continue as they mature, with adults prone to anxiety disorders, substance abuse and mental illness.
A migrant worker from Anhui , receiving a free consultation at the Shanghai Children's Medical Centre for her 14-year-old daughter on Tuesday, said she had suspected the girl had ADHD for years but didn't know which hospital had the necessary expertise to treat her.
'When she was a little girl, she was naughtier than boys,' she said. 'She couldn't sit quietly for long, couldn't concentrate on television programmes and she was talkative.
'Now, in grade five at primary school, my daughter scores low in tests and is slow in completing her homework. She is always in a bad temper and is rebellious.'
Jin said she was considering lobbying Shanghai's education authorities to agree to an ADHD awareness campaign targeting primary school teachers.
'This group of children usually receives too much criticism, from both home and school,' she said. 'It's vital ... to involve families and teachers together to help rehabilitate children with ADHD.'