Liam Creed is not the most voluble of 17-year-olds. No small talk, speaks to a visitor when spoken to, and in that sense he is entirely normal. Yet for him to spend 90 minutes without swearing, kicking anything or exploding out of the room is considerable progress, and that is the level of calm that I witnessed . As a child Liam was naughty and difficult. He pulled up plants, broke things, scratched cars, was excluded from school and had no friends. He was 8 when a psychiatrist said he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Did it make a difference to have an explanation, I ask. “Not really. I just used it as an excuse for everything,” Liam replies with a grin.
This is an honest answer, and gratifyingly off-script. I am talking to Liam because his name is on the cover of a book that charts the story of a 14-year-old boy who has ADHD and has reached the last-chance saloon at school, when he is invited to spend one day a week working for a charity called Canine Partners (www.caninepartners.co.uk), which trains dogs to help disabled people. He meets a lovable and mischievous 14-month-old labrador called Aero and over six months the boy learns to take charge of the dog. In due course, a brilliantly trained Aero bounds off to his new owner, and the boy into the sunset, his ADHD under control and with a dream of working with dogs burning in his heart.
The book is based on an outline provided by Liam and his mum; the saccharine-loaded brush strokes have been crafted by a ghost writer. This is not to underestimate the difficulties that Liam and his parents have faced, and his experiences are instructive. So are his responses because he has a habit of inadvertently putting his finger on the controversy that surrounds ADHD. As often happens with recently medicalised conditions — attention deficit disorder became ADHD in the 1980s and can be treated with drugs — the number of diagnoses has risen rapidly. It is estimated that up to 5 per cent of school-age children have the condition and sceptics regard it as a convenient label for anti-social children who have grown up without structure and can’t pass exams.
“I got into trouble a lot, just did things before I thought about them, probably because I wanted attention,” Liam says. “We didn’t know what to do until I was told what I had and was given Ritalin. The head teacher didn’t even believe in ADHD. Before I met Aero I didn’t think I was good at anything. After I met him I was like, I’m doing something with my life.”