14 Apr 2024

The History of ADHD

ADHD as we know it has only been recognised as a condition since the 1980s leading to media panic about diagnosis rates at the time, …

ADHD as we know it has only been recognised as a condition since the 1980s leading to media panic about diagnosis rates at the time, with some platforms claiming that “ADHD is not real”. However, medical professionals have been observing traits we now associate with ADHD in individuals throughout history. Learn more about the history of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in our guide.

ADHD Timeline

1798 – Dr Alexander Crichton

Dr Alexander Crichton was born in Scotland and later went on to be the emperor of Russia, Tsar Alexander I’s, personal physician. His study into various neurological conditions was one of the first medical documents to identify traits commonly found in ADHD as a disorder of attention.

His work mentions that the individuals he studied found it difficult to concentrate on a subject for a sustained period of time. It also states that the condition is something the person is born with and that symptoms tend to lessen with age. Finally, he talks about how individuals with the condition are easily distracted or affected by sensory stimuli like heat, light or even a dog barking can bring on “the fidgets”.

1902 – Sir George Frederic Still

George Frederic Still was a pioneer in the world of paediatrics. As well as discovering a form of juvenile arthritis. The work Still carried out was a product of its time and as such the language he used can be interpreted as insensitive, knowing what we know today, although the symptoms he describes relate to symptoms of ADHD.

In 1902, Still presented a series of lectures to the Royal College of Physicians about what he described as “Abnormal Physical conditions in children”. Sir George Frederic Still studied 43 children who had problems with attention and self-regulation. He noted that the children were often defiant and resistant to discipline, had little inhibition and struggled to learn the consequences of their actions, although their intellect was considered “normal”. He stated that the children’s traits were not caused by a fault of the environment, suggesting that it was something that they were born with.

1968 – Hyperkinetic Disorder

In 1968 a group of American Psychiatrists published the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM-II. The publication outlined a condition called Hyperkinetic Disorder, which was categorised by an inability to focus, restlessness, hyperactivity and distractibility. Although named as a hyperkinetic disorder, physicians became aware that the children who were diagnosed did not always possess hyperactive traits.

1980 – Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

In 1980 the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was revised and the DSM-III introduced the term Attention Deficit Disorder with or without hyperactivity, otherwise known as ADD in place of Hyperkinetic Disorder. This definition of the disorder claimed that only children displayed symptoms of the condition and that it did not affect adults.

1987 – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

A revised version of the DSM-III was released in 1987 to update the name of ADD to ADHD and clearly define the traits associated with the disorder.

Around the same time that ADHD was defined in the revised DSM-III, doctors began to medicate children with stimulants such as Ritalin, Dexedrine and Cylert.

In the 1990s there was a surge of ADHD diagnoses. The refined definition of the condition meant that doctors were able to diagnose the condition more efficiently and increased media coverage meant that there was an increase in awareness of symptoms.

The disorder was only officially named ADHD in the 80s, and with diagnosis skyrocketing as awareness grew, there was a certain level of media panic, with newspapers and media outlets claiming that the disorder wasn’t real. This created a stigma around children with ADHD blaming the condition on poor parenting or laziness.

2000 – ADHD Subtypes

In the year 2000, the DSM-IV was released with an update to the classification of ADHD traits. The previous edition had listed the symptoms of the disorder, but the update classified the disorder into three subtypes:

  • Predominately hyperactive and impulsive
  • Predominately Inattentive
  • Combined

2008 – Adult ADHD

In 2008, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recognised ADHD in Adults for the first time. The diagnostic criteria have remained largely the same since the DSM-IV but have been expanded to apply to problems adults with the condition are more likely to have, such as organisation and time management at home and work.

ADHD Today

Today, ADHD is much better understood and there is valuable research being carried out to determine its cause. In 2020, researchers found evidence to suggest a genetic link, meaning that if a child is diagnosed with ADHD, their siblings are more likely to have it. Similarly, if one or both parents have ADHD, it’s more likely that their children will do too.

Want to find out more about our ADHD assessments? Read more about both Children and Adults, available at 29 clinics across the UK.

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