I was surprised to see an article in a major newspaper (The Toronto Star) reporting that ADHD didn’t exist until the 1950′s. They based this opinion on research by medical historian, Matthew Smith. While I support ongoing research and review of the history, I’m concerned about the impact of an article like this on the many families who are working hard to overcome stigma to get the help they need for ADD and ADHD.
The history of ADHD, as I see it, includes the fact that ADD and ADHD started out as a ‘moral diagnosis’. In other words – people started out by viewing people with ADD and ADHD as ‘bad people’. They were viewed as ‘lazy’, needing to ‘try harder’, etc.
Medical, neurological and genetic research has clearly established the reality of ADD and ADHD, and now we have moved more toward a ‘medical diagnosis’ of ADHD.
This researcher is suggesting that ADHD is a consequence of our modern and structured society. He suggests that the early medical accounts of ADHD – i.e. Dr. Hoffman’s poem in the mid 1800′s, or Dr. Still’s account of ADHD in 1902 were not accurate. He is suggesting that ADHD is a social construct, and not a real disorder, and it only became an issue in ‘modern society’.
ADHD is NOT a social construct – it is a real disorder.
In my work with bestselling author Dr. Hallowell, we discussed how the history of ADHD needs to evolve from the moral diagnosis, to the medical diagnosis, to the strength based diagnosis. The ‘strength based’ diagnosis is the evolution of the disorder – and suggests working toward how ADHD can actually be an asset for people who are diagnosed with it. You can read more about this in a special report we wrote here.
When the diagnosis of ADHD goes from being a disorder to ‘traits’, people can maximize their natural abilities and passions to do very well.
In the Toronto Star article, Matthew Smith is quoted as saying that the symptoms of ADHD which may interfere with school may be a ‘boon on the soccer pitch’. As a doctor who works with ADD and ADHD kids and teens on a daily basis, I regularly hear of kids with ADHD who struggle in sports like soccer – where their inattention has then watching the clouds rather than the soccer ball.
However, while Mr. Smith and I may disagree on the history of ADHD, we are not too far apart when it comes to the suggestion that people with ADHD can use their ‘traits’ as an asset. My main concern with his position is that the approach that he is taking discredits ADHD and promotes ignorance about the disorder. Even if his opinion is based on good research – by the time it gets to a ‘media soundbyte’, it ultimately takes away from the kids and teens who are dealing with an uphill battle. And it further stigmatizes ADD and ADHD. This is something that I am not interested in doing.
Please share your thoughts and comments in the discussion below.