History Of ADHD

The history of ADHD is fascinating - Cases where the symptoms now known as ADHD were described by physicians as early as Hippocrates 350 BC. In the late 1800's Sir Alexander Crichton coined the phrase "The Fidgets" for patients who showed mental restlessness and an inability to maintain concentration.

Sir George F. Still

In the early 1900's, Still became considered the key figure in the history of ADHD as he was the first person to make the connection between hereditary genetics and the disorder. He described several dozen case studies of young children who displayed severe difficulties maintaining concentration on simple activities. He was careful to distinguish between a child who was merely bored by their studies versus one who lacked "moral control" by asking them to play games with him. Those who displayed ADHD would lose concentration even though they claimed to be enjoying the game, and wouldn't be able to respond to threats of the game stopping if they lost concentration.

ADHD History Timeline

Click on this article link to the ADHD History Timeline to see over 35 significant events or publications in the history of ADHD recognition and evolvement over time.


After symptoms we now know as ADHD were specifically highlighted by Still in 1902, it took 20 years for the disease to acquire a more scientific standing when it gained its first official diagnosis "Post-Encephalitic Behavior Disorder". The next step in the history of ADHD is its treatment. Once it was recognized, more and more children each year became diagnosed with the disorder. The first successful treatment was in 1937, when children were given a dose of Benzedrine to help calm the symptoms. Benzedrine was used as a mental stimulant for patients with narcolepsy, and instead of increasing the symptoms of ADHD, Benzedrine helped the patient to improve the focus of their attention for extended periods of time.


Benzedrine never took off as an actual treatment for ADHD, but it did set the stage for the study of Ritalin in 1956 for its treatment. Ritalin is also a stimulant, and it gained FDA approval for ADHD treatment. By the 1990s, Ritalin became very popular to treat ADHD. Because Ritalin was relatively safe to prescribe, there have been some who have argued that Ritalin was given too readily, perhaps even before any other tests had taken place. Of course neither Ritalin nor any other medication will be successful for all people with ADHD. Stimulant medications have become very popular to be abused on college campuses, some students thinking they can help keep them awake, study longer and thus can be a substitute for proper studying and preparation for their course work and testing.

Alternative Treatments

As a result of the large MTA Trial completed in the late 1990's and early 2000's it has become established that medical treatment alone is not as good as medical treatment plus behavior/social therapy. Medical treatment alone was better than behavior therapy alone. Additionally, it is generally accepted that certain environmental concerns are important to rule out as well, for example heavy metal contamination such as lead or food allergies from food additives and dyes. There seems to be no doubt that certain parts of the diet can be altered that will have a positive outcome for the person with ADHD.

A total approach, taking advantage of all that has been learned is likely to show the best outcome for the person suffering from ADHD symptoms. The modern history of ADHD continues to be a battlefield between those who consider it to be a scientific problem and those who see it as social one. Caution should be advised against any strategy that suggests only one path will cure the disease, whether it is a drug company, a doctor, someone selling their book, special herbs or diet alone.

For many, ADHD is believed to be an inherited disorder, the following have been suggested as ways to help sufferers reduce their symptoms and cope:

  • Diet - By avoiding a lot of processed foods, ADHD sufferers can reduce the number of inappropriate stimulants going to their brain (see Diet and ADHD)

  • Counseling - By talking through their thought processes, ADHD sufferers can learn how their brain functions. This can help them to learn coping strategies to manage their day to day lives. They can learn new behaviours to enhance their productivity.

  • Family therapy - It can be incredibly difficult living with someone with ADHD, and sometimes the negative feedback from family members can increase the incidents of ADHD related behavior. By working with the family as a whole, tensions can be reduced and whole group coping strategies can be put into place.

The Future

Research is still going into ADHD. It has now been recognized as a proper mental disorder in the last few years for the first time in the history of ADHD. There is ongoing research looking at the impact of biofeedback compared to drug treatments. The patient is given automatic feedback about their brain wave patterns at any given moment. They are then taught to recognize the patterns that stop them from concentrating and how to change their thinking to change their brain patterns. This is a relatively new science, and thus quite expensive. It is hoped that as research increases, this could prove a major new advance added to the treatment of ADHD.

More information about Medications for ADHD:

ADHD History Timeline - ADHD History Timeline shows the evolvement of the recognition and proper treatment of a mental disorder that impacts millions of patients, their lives, school, work and relationships.

List of Medications for ADHD - The history of ADHD is not complete without looking at the ADHD Medication Timeline. Explore how stimulants have... .

› History of ADHD

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