Myth: ADHD is a New Disorder

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Back in the 1980's, when I first took my son to the doctor for hyperactivity, I had not heard about ADHD. Most people had not. It is not that it just suddenly appeared in our society; it is that it underwent a number of name changes before the medical community settled on Attention Deficit Disorder. Below is an outline of the history of ADHD, dating back over 150 years.

1845 - Dr. Heinrich Hoffman wrote the book, "The Story of Fidgety Phil." This was a book about a little boy that by today's medical description would have ADHD.

1902 - Dr. Still, a British doctor, documented cases involving impulsiveness and other behavioral problems. He called it "Defect of Moral Control." Despite the name, Dr. Still believed that these behaviors were caused by a genetic dysfunction and not by poor parenting or home life.

1922 - Symptoms now associated with ADHD were documented and given a diagnosis of "Post-Encephalitic Behavior Disorder."

1937 - Dr. Charles Bradley introduced the use of stimulants to treat hyperactive children.

1956 - Ritalin was first introduced as a treatment for hyperactive children.

1960s - Doctors began treating hyperactivity with stimulant medication. Hyperactivity was normally the only symptom treated at this time. The name "Minimal Brain Dysfunction" was used in the early 1960s and was changed in the late 60s to "Hyperkinetic Disorder of Childhood."

1970s - Additional symptoms such as lack of focus and daydreaming were associated with impulsiveness. Impulsiveness was expanded to include verbal impulsiveness, cognitive impulsiveness and motor impulsiveness.

1980 - The current name "Attention Deficit Disorder +/-" was given in the DSM III by the American Psychiatric Association. ADHD and ADD were separate diagnosis.

1987 - The APA renamed the disorder Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and noted it was a medical diagnosis that could cause behavioral problems. They noted these behavioral problems to be different than those caused by emotional turmoil, such as divorce or moving to a new area.

1998 - The American Medical Associated stated that ADHD was one of the best-researched disorders.

2000-present - Studies have continued, and we now understand much more about ADHD, including its impact on many aspect of life, not just academically. We also understand that ADHD is not "outgrown" and can continue into adulthood.

Suggested Reading:

The Basics of ADHD Medications

Understanding ADHD


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, National Institute of Mental Health

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.