posted by admin on Jan 15

The history of ADHD’s “evolution” is both fascinating and lengthy. It’s not a new ailment, but it’s taken doctors and researchers quite a long time to understand what it is and how to effectively treat it.
The first description of ADHD in the medical literature was made in 1902 by an English doctor named George Still, who described a group of young patients stricken with extreme hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. Not surprisingly, the group consisted of three boys for every girl, and in each case the problems manifested themselves before age eight. From his report, it’s apparent that Still was dealing with almost textbook examples of ADHD. Based on the fact that most of the children in his study came from good, loving homes, Still theorized that their condition was biological rather than environmental and might even have a genetic component.
It’s interesting to note that during that period, disruptive children were generally viewed as simply poorly disciplined, and much of the responsibility for their behavior was placed on their parents’ shoulders. Parenting books and even many medical texts advocated spanking and other forms of corporal punishment as the answer to hyperactivity and inattention. Now, of course, we know that corporal punishment does nothing to eliminate the symptoms of ADHD, and can, in fact, make them worse.
A 1917 encephalitis outbreak in the United States stimulated still more interest in attention deficit syndromes because many children stricken with the disease developed problems strikingly similar to ADHD, including hyperactivity and attention deficit. Doctors reasoned that the virus responsible for encephalitis damaged the same parts of the brain suspected to be immature in ADHD children. By the 1940s, the term minimal brain damage was used to describe this disorder. However, once it was determined that these children often had no evidence of brain damage, the term was changed to minimal brain dysfunction.

Hyperactivity became the focus of study in the 1950s, when doctors started referring to the condition as “hyperkinetic impulse disorder.” It was during this period that Ritalin and other stimulants became the treatment of choice for children with ADHD, though the number of prescriptions then was dramatically lower than what we’re seeing today.
During the latter part of the 1960s, doctors and researchers began to realize with greater certainty that the symptoms that make up ADHD are biological and possibly genetic in origin— not the result of poor parenting, environment, or children just being “bad.” The use of stimulants, particularly Ritalin, became increasingly common as parents looked desperately for an effective treatment.
The 1970s saw greater research into both the causes and effects of ADHD, with strong emphasis on impulsivity and distractibility. Scientists became increasingly convinced of a biological and probably genetic cause, although they couldn’t prove it. As studies attempted to understand the underlying deficient cognitive operations that result in the syndrome, the name given to the disorder changed. Thus the term attention deficit disorder reflected the conviction, largely following the work of Virginia Douglas in the 1970s and 1980s, that a deficit in attention was the primary underlying disorder. In DSM TV, hyperactivity was added to the nomenclature, so that now the syndrome is referred to as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
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