THE condition attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often seen as a way for bad parents to excuse their children’s bad behaviour.

They are often confronted with a curling lip, a sneer of contempt, the furtive sideways glances and the barbed remarks that let every parent know what a poor job they are doing of raising their child.

Often this view comes from older people who talk about the collapse of discipline and the breakdown of society, the rise in the number of one-parent families and the disintegration of law and order.

For them, it is hard to accept that ADHD is anything more than unruly behaviour, especially when they may well have been beaten in their own childhood for far less.

Phrases such as “that one needs a good smack”, “kids are wrapped in cotton wool these days”, “spoiled brats” and “nanny state” seem to slip off the tongue all too easily.

But what is it really like to bring up a child you believe has ADHD?

What does it feel like for a parent to be told that their child’s condition is a medical fantasy, a mask to screen their own shortcomings?

Jean Wilson, aged 47, of Chelmsford Drive, Ronkswood, Worcester, has a daughter, six-yearold Emily, who has been diagnosed with ADHD and autism and has had to form a very thick skin. She is determined to tell people her belief that ADHD is more than just another label for a naughty child.

Jean said: “There seems to be a perception that they are just naughty children that need a good clout and then they will be fine.

That’s the older generation talking.

They think ADHD is just some new-fangled idea. But it is very isolating being the parent of a child with this particular disability.

“When I take my daughter to Little Acorns play centre in Worcester, all the other mums are sitting around drinking coffee and chatting, half-watching their child, but I can’t allow Emily to be alone because she has no perception of danger.

“It’s heartbreaking to see that your child can’t mix. They don’t fit in anywhere. They’re like the bit of the jigsaw that doesn’t quite fit.”

ADHD is said to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the parts of the brain controlling attention, concentration and impulsivity.

This means a child’s behaviour can be anything from dreamy to hyperactive.

A person with ADHD has difficulty filtering out all the information coming into his or her brain, so they are easily distracted and tend to act before thinking things through.

For these reasons, ADHD presents deeply challenging behaviour for parents.

Because of the impulsiveness of the condition, Emily has little sense of fear. If a door in the house is left open she would run straight into the road, possibly into the path of a car.

There are no curtains in the family home – Emily has ripped them all down. She takes pictures down off the walls and pushes shelves over.

She smashes things in the house and climbs all over the furniture. It is hard even to get her to sit still for even a few minutes at a time.

She barely sleeps – four hours a night at most – but she never gets worn out and her mum cannot remember a time when she has even yawned.

When she takes Emily around the shops she has to be strapped in a special buggy otherwise she would “charge around the shops wrecking everything”.

After about an hour in the buggy, she will scream to be let out.

Jean has to be constantly vigilant – Emily has just learned how to undo her car seat belt.

Emily is also incredibly strong for a girl her size and age – it took three nurses to hold her down when they were taking a blood sample.

Because she cannot speak, she is physically more forceful to get what she wants and shoves her mum’s hand towards the cupboard when she wants a packet of crisps.

Jean said: “She doesn’t sit still.

She doesn’t concentrate. She doesn’t sleep. Emily is on the go all the time and as soon as she’s up, she’s up to no good. You can’t leave her for a second. She’s probably never going to be able to achieve any level of independence.”

Other parents can snub a child with ADHD and stop their children playing with them, often because of their unpredictable and impulsive actions.

Susie Sloane, 51, of Church Lane, Norton, Worcester, believes her son Luke had to leave his old school because of pressure from parents who did not want their children to mix with him.

Luke, aged five, can be very “oppositional” when he wants something and has to be given sharp, short and simple commands to manage his behaviour.

She said: “There is still a massive misconception about ADHD. People think it doesn’t exist. Over a period of years, other parents have shown a lot of hostility. Doing anything social with Luke can be challenging because of his behaviour. His behaviour can be inappropriate and that impinges on other children.

“He gets very excitable and his behaviour becomes much more hyperactive. When we went out for a meal we had to constantly say, “Stop that!” to the point where we have to take him out of the situation altogether. But he wouldn’t be a child with special needs if he just toed the line.

“We took him along by the river in Worcester and even when he was holding my hand he was jumping about. Children like Luke and Emily are not monsters or aliens.

Luke has a superb sense of humour and he’s got quite a few friends.”

Luke now attends Cherry Orchard First School in Pershore where she says he has gained more acceptance from other children and greater support than at his last school.

Families say caring for a child with ADHD carries a huge personal toll. Susie has been prescribed antidepressants and has had to be seen by a psychiatric nurse because of the pressure she has been under.

She said: “My health has suffered.

I just went into meltdown.

Outwardly, Luke’s exactly the same as an average child but he isn’t. I just want some understanding and tolerance.

“There’s no physical, visual sign to say this is a little boy that has something wrong with him.

Because of that, there is zero tolerance and zero sympathy.”

She also has a 12-year-old daughter called Poppy who does not have special needs and it is a constant struggle to balance the demands made on her by her son’s condition and her daughter’s no less important need for love and attention.

In a way, Jean says she is more fortunate than Susie because all her other children are grown up and she can devote all her time to looking after Emily.

Jean won her fight with Worcestershire County Council for funding to allow her daughter to go to a holiday club five days a week which she thought would have to be slashed to one or two days a week.

Her daughter can now be cared for all week at the Smart Hearts club at Worcester’s Bishop Perowne CE College.

It gives her the chance for respite during the school summer holidays and she is convinced she would not be able to cope without it.