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When was ADHD First Recognized and Labeled? And Other ADHD Questions

written by: jamesj • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 12/17/2010

When was ADHD first recognized and labeled? ADHD was first recognized and labeled in 1902. To many it is a recently-discovered condition, but mentions of it go back as far as 1798. Find out more with our ADHD FAQ.

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    Identifying ADHD

    When was ADHD first recognized and labeled?

    ADHD was first recognized as a condition and labeled in 1902 by British physician George Still, who called it a “morbid defect of moral control." After his series of lectures for the Royal College of Physicians in England, the medical community began studying the condition. He suggested that the problem could be genetic, instead of poor upbringing as had been previously thought.

    What other attempts were made to understand the condition before this time?

    In 1845 German physician Heinrich Hoffman wrote a book where he described ADHD in great detail. The name of the piece was “The Story of Fidgety Phillip," and the person described in its pages would be a classic case of ADHD today. He did not label the condition, but he is credited with being the first medical official to describe it.

    In 1798 Sir Alexander Crichton described “mental restlessness" in a book called “An Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Mental Derangement."

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    Developing ADHD

    What were some early names given to what we now call ADHD?

    In the 1920s it was called “post-encephalitic behavior disorder," following an outbreak of encephalitis. This came about when pregnant mothers had encephalitis and their children had symptoms of hyperactivity. In the 1930s ADHD was called “minimal brain damage," and in the 1960s it was called “minimal brain dysfunction" and “hyper kinetic reaction to childhood."

    When did the term ADHD start being used?

    In the early 1980s medical officials started using this term and they began recognizing that it may or may not include hyperactivity. It was called ADD until 1987, when the term ADHD began to be used.

    What was significant about the name ADHD?

    Before this time hyperactivity was the focus of treatment and identification of the condition. It was in the late 1980s that other aspects were recognized and studied, such as lack of focus and impulsiveness.

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    Treatment history

    What is the history of treatment?

    In 1937 Dr. Charles Bradley discovered that stimulants had a calming effect on children who were hyperactive. Stimulants then began being used to treat children with ADHD and Ritalin was first used for this purpose in 1956. Today many drugs are used, as well as natural remedies.

    When were adults diagnosed with ADHD?

    In the 1980s doctors began realizing that ADHD symptoms do not always end with childhood. Some do “grow out of" ADHD, but many do not. Doctors also believe that ADHD does not develop in adulthood, but it may not be discovered until then. Many parents discover they have ADHD when they find their child has it and realize they have the same symptoms.

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    Resources

    Adult ADHD: History

    Adult-Child ADD-ADHD: History of ADHD

    ADHD New Zealand: Causes of ADHD