From experience, having ADHD is like reading a book outside on a windy day. Despite your best attempts at concentration, an elemental force beyond your control continues to turn the pages. Instead of focusing on what you want to read, you struggle to get back to the “right” page – and stay there long enough to absorb it. In this way, people with ADHD are forever distracted by the impulses of their own mind.
“ADHD has always been an underdiagnosed and undertreated disease. Children were seen as lazy, misbehaved, spoiled, or just plain bad.”
ADHD can ruin your life. Unless they have the one percent resources, some people with ADHD may find it difficult to hold down a job, do well in school, maintain relationships, and generally function on an equal footing with people. who don’t face the same unpredictable storms inside their skulls. Fortunately, scientists today at least recognize ADHD as a disability, which can be diagnosed and treated. However, this has not always been true. For a long part of history, people with ADHD have been treated as if they were just bad human beings.
“Doctors began documenting/writing about what we now call ADHD (two) centuries ago – not coincidentally, around the time compulsory education became policy in the Kingdom United, then in the United States,” explained Dr. Stephen P. Hinshaw, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, in an email to Salon.
As children struggled to keep up with the strict demands of Western educational systems, British doctors like George Still at the start of the 20th century lamented the supposed “‘moral defect’ of some children – mainly boys (as has been the stereotype “forever” of normality) intelligence) who somehow lacked the ability to focus and act according to class norms and “morals” (of where its designation),” Hinshaw told Salon.
Yet, incidentally, he is dubbed “the father of British paediatrics” and is widely credited as one of the first doctors to identify ADHD as a condition. After the World War I flu epidemic, a number of survivors claimed to have ADHD-like traits, other diagnoses followed, with patients complaining of problems such as impulsivity and lack of concentration. Yet with this rise in recognition came an unfortunate catch: the mistaken belief, as Hinshaw put it, that there was “a biological ’cause'” – which then became exaggerated to the point of claiming that any child with such symptoms had brain damage, later ameliorated to minimal brain damage or minimal brain dysfunction (MBD).”
It was not until the mid-twentieth century that specialists began to focus on patients who exhibited hyperactivity and impulsivity, and coined the term “hyperactivity” (or its synonym, hyperkinesia). But even then, “the scales developed included virtually no items related to executive dysfunction, inattention, etc.” Additionally, they were “biased towards boys often with aggressive behavior”. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) were invented; and during that decade, outdated assumptions like ignoring girls or assuming that ADHD ends with childhood began to fade.
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“Finally, we are beginning to move from conceptualizations of ‘either/or’ to ‘both/and’.”
Yet, even though ADHD has only been formally recognized for a few decades, it has always existed. Dr. Jose Martinez Raga of the University of València, co-author of a 2015 article on the beginnings of ADHD, expanded on this topic for Salon.
“We can find vague clinical descriptions made by the ancient Greeks, and in modern times we can find clear clinical descriptions of individuals with what we now call ADHD in textbooks since the mid-1900s. 1700,” Raga told Salon via email. Yet even if ADHD patients in classical Athens or Georgian England were observedit didn’t mean they were Understood.
“ADHD has always been an underdiagnosed and undertreated condition,” Raga explained. “Children were seen as lazy, misbehaved, spoiled, or just plain bad.” Even today, Raga argued that the situation “is far from ideal, particularly when it comes to adults with ADHD, but things have certainly improved.”
Hinshaw echoed Raga in recalling how people with ADHD were seen as “lazy, not very motivated, really ‘immoral’ or ‘defective’ (like people with learning disabilities) – and as burdens to classrooms and the social order more generally”. ADHD patients weren’t the only ones blamed for their condition, either. “Like nearly all psychological/psychiatric conditions in the 20th century, the automatic attribution was to ‘faulty parenting’ (enduring legacy of psychodynamic theories),” Hinshaw told Salon.
Today, of course, scientists understand that “the genetic vulnerability to ADHD is extremely strong – but along with parenting, school climate, etc., also have a big part to do with the end result. Finally, we are beginning to shift from “either/or” conceptualizations to “both/and” conceptualizations. Hinshaw is also encouraged by moving away from treating ADHD solely with drugs and seeing drugs simply as a way to relieve symptoms in the short term.
“Unless it’s combined with family behavior therapy, school counseling, organizational skills, etc., it’s usually not enough,” Hinshaw told Salon.
At the very least, however, the stigma surrounding ADHD isn’t as bad as it once was.
“Public views are improving now – despite ADHDers who claim it’s just a social construct, or lousy public upbringing, or permissive parenting, etc.”, reflected Hinshaw.