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Where did the term ADHD come from? An ADHD Timeline

A cartoon drawing of the Institute for Social Research.
A cartoon drawing of the Institute for Social Research.
Bob Row Cartoons

Historical references to ADHD described children and their behaviors throughout world literature. In 1798 Sir Alexander Crichton described a "mental restlessness" in his book "An inquiry into the nature and origin of mental derangement". Dr. Crichton observed: "In this disease of attention, if it can with propriety be called so, every impression seems to agitate the person, and gives him or her an unnatural degree of mental restlessness."

Dr. Heinrich Hoffman's 1845 book of children's poetry about their characteristics included a nursery rhyme called "The Story of Fidgety Philip". He did not discover ADHD but from his poem you can clearly see that he was observing a child with ADHD-like symptoms.

Sir G.F. Still is generally credited with being the first to identify ADHD in 1902. He called it "Morbid Defect of Moral Control". He believed from the beginning that it was an inherited neurological disorder in some children and the result of pre- or postnatal injury of others.

After an encephalitis epidemic in 1917 occurred, a link was established between adults and children who had developed ADHD-like symptoms. In 1922 The name changed to "Post-Encephalitic Behavior Disorders".

In the 1930s individuals with behavior disorders were labeled as having "minimal brain damage". Throughout the past several decades ADHD has taken on many names and classifications. In the 1960s they believed it to be a "hyperkinetic reaction of childhood". Much of the focus was on hyperactivity. In the 1980s the awareness of daydreaming and distractibility came.

The National Institutes of Mental Health recognized Attention Deficit with or without Hyperactivity as a real disorder in 1980. In 1987 the term ADD became known as ADHD. In 1994 ADHD with subtypes was adopted: Predominantly Inattentive Type, Hyperactive/Impulsive Type, Combined Type, and Not otherwise specified type.

Today ADHD research continues to struggle with what causes this disabling disorder. There are just as many treatment options as there are questions

Donald R. Lyman, PhD is the Associate Professor of the Department of Psychology at the University of Kentucky. He and several of his colleagues have declared an "International Concensus Statement on ADHD". They declare, "We cannot overemphasize the point that as a matter of science, the notion that ADHD does not exist is simply wrong. All of the major medical associations and government health agencies recognize ADHD as a genuine disorder because the scientific evidence indicating it is so overwhelming".


  • Donna 5 years ago

    Great research - I had no idea that ADHD goes back that far. I pray there is a cure and thank you for this informative article!

  • Tracy Cook 5 years ago

    Well, glad we are no longer thought to be deranged!! I live quite well on my written down routines and medicine. Maybe I was dropped on my head, but rather suspect paternal grandmother for this genetic gift. ;)

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    This is amazing!

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    Thanks for the great research, really helped me with my work :)

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