The disorder that is now attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is marked by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. While these symptoms were first described clinically in 1902 by Sir George Frederick Still, discussion of similar constellations of symptoms have been described in stories and anecdotally many years before (Lange, Reichl, Lange, Tucha, Tucha, 2010). The purpose of this paper is to provide a broad overview of the history of ADHD, from those anecdotal stories to the more formal diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). During this history there have been many changes labels for the disorder, defining features, theories about the cause, and assessment and intervention for the disorder. These topics will be discussed in a chronological manner from the start of history of ADHD to the most current developmental in the DSM-5 and within the field.
Sir Alexander Crichton, a Scottish physician, wrote about difficulties with attention that seem to be similar to ADHD in 1798. Within his book “An inquiry into the nature and origin of mental derangement: comprehending a concise system of the physiology and pathology of the human mind and a history of the passions and their effects’’ there was a chapter entitled, “One Attention and its Diseases.” In this chapter he defined attention as, “‘When any object of external sense, or of thought, occupies the mind in such a degree that a person does not receive a clear perception from any other one, he is said to attend to it’’ (Crichton 1798, reprint p. 200).” He goes on to discuss how attention can change in a healthy way and how inattention can also present as more problematic and abn...
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...present’’ (Ross and Ross 1976, p. 16). It was thought that if hyperactivity was a “sufficient diagnostic sign of underlying brain damage” (Ross and Ross 1976).
The idea that minimal brain damage was an underlying component of behavior difficulties started to be challenged in the late 1959s and 1960s and “minimal brain damage” as a disorder was called into question. It was now thought that this label was too “vague” and “overinclusive” and that the presentation of behavioral symptoms was not evidence enough for brain damage (Kirk, 1963). As the term “minimal brain damage” went out of fashion, it was replaced by various, more specific labels such as “dyslexia,” “language disorder,” “learning disabilities,” and “hyperactivity.” All of these labels were based on observable behavioral difficulties, as opposed to an assumed cause of the difficulties (Barkley, 2006).
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