May 27, 2009

Researcher questions history of ADHD

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a modern construct that before 1957 was not considered a disorder or worth treating, a Canadian researcher said.

Matthew Smith of Edmonton, finishing his doctorate at the Centre for Medical History at the University of Exeter in England, says ADHD is currently the most commonly diagnosed childhood psychiatric disorder and millions of children are prescribed drugs such as Ritalin.

Smith says many today assert that ADHD is a universal phenomenon and can be seen in historical figures such as Mozart or Einstein. However, Smith argues that the perception of hyperactivity as a condition to be treated is rooted in social, cultural, political and economic changes of the last half century.

We need to refocus the history of hyperactivity on the period starting from the late 1950s and '60s. By doing so, we start to understand why people started to think there was a problem with children, why they thought that problem needed to be fixed and why it became acceptable to fix that problem with drugs, Smith said in a statement.

If a child's playing soccer, there's a chance hyperactivity isn't going to be a problem. But if they are stuck in a classroom, it is a problem.

The paper is to be presented at the Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences taking place at Ottawa's Carleton University.