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The Informed Parent

Early History of ADHD-Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Mar. 26, 2007

Is ADHD a "new" diagnosis, the result of our modern, hurried, technologically driven society?

In the early 1800's, ADHD was first noted by researchers who recognized that some patients recovering from serious head trauma often presented with overactive, impulsive inattentive and distractible behavior. There was decisive great increase in the activity level and mood instability of these patients. Further study compared these patients with retarded individuals. The hypothesis was made that retarded individuals suffered from a general degree of brain impairment which resulted in their hyperactive behavior. It was therefore assumed that brain injury in head trauma was responsible for their over activity.

In 1902, Dr. Still described a disorder in childhood which he called a "Defect in Moral Control". He observed inattention, impulsivity and difficulty benefiting from life experiences. This disorder was observed more in males that in females. He offered possible causes of the problem, including trauma, heredity, and learning problems.

After an outbreak of encephalitis in the early 1900's, researchers began noting restless, impulsive and overactive behaviors in children who were retarded, and who had suffered from this viral epidemic. They hypothesized that these behavior problems were caused by neurological insults, dysfunction or other disorders.

The use of medication to treat ADHD conditions began in the 1930's, and will be the subject of next month's article.

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