A Short History of ADHD

Major Achievements in Research and Therapy

1980 until present

DSM III defines “Attention Deficit Disorder, with or without hyperactivity”, thus distinguishing between ADD and ADHD, and listing “inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity“ as essential features.


Virginia Douglas investigates specific disabilities of hyperactive children in 1970, suggesting that a core group of symptoms involving inability to sustain attention and to control impulsivity can account for most of the deficits.


DSM II mentions the “hyperkinetic reaction of childhood”.


Conners and Eisenberg report on the effects of methylphenidate in disturbed children.


Laufer and Denhoff further characterize the “Hyperkinetic Behavior Syndrome in Children” and describe the disorder in an article with Gerald Solomons as the “Hyperkinetic Impulse Disorder”.

Eisenberg summarizes prominent clinical features of “the brain damaged child”.


CIBA patents methylphenidate  and introduces it in Germany and Switzerland under the brand name “Ritaline”.


Carlsson and colleagues publish their landmark papers on the neurotransmitter dopamine.


Leandro Pannizon synthesizes methylphenidate while working for CIBA.


Strauss and Werner describe disorders of conceptual thinking in the “brain-injured child”.


Follow-up studies show the beneficial effects of benzedrine.


Dub and Lurie describe the effect of benzedrine on 48 depressed female patients.


Molitch and Sullivan report on the beneficial effects of benzedrine on children taking the “New Stanford Achievement Test”.

Charles Bradley publishes his landmark article „The behaviour of children receiving benzedrine“.


Kahn and Cohen describe 3 cases in which hyperkinesis is a predominant feature that they term “organic driveness”,  considered to be the result of a subacute encephalitis affecting brain stem and basal ganglia.


Smith, Kline and French introduce an inhaler and bronchodilator under the trade name “Benzedrine”.


The „Emma Pendelton Bradley Home“ opens in Rhode Island as America’s first neuropsychiatric hospital for children.


First Kramer and Pollnow reference to the disorder, resulting in their article „Über eine hyperkinetische Erkrankung im Kindesalter“ (1932).


A special ward dedicated to the observation of children opens at Berlin´s Charité.

1917 – late 1920's

Epidemics of encephalits lethargica spread around the world triggering behavioral changes in affected children.


Alfred Tredgold publishes „Mental Deficiency“ and extends Still´s observations.


In March, George Frederic Still presents a series of 3 lectures, the „Goulstonian lectures“ on “some abnormal psychical conditions in children“.


Thomas Smith Clouston, a notable Scottish psychiatrist of the late nineteenth century, describes states of over-excitability and mental explosiveness in children.


Nagayoshi Nagai isolates ephedrine, similar in structure to its synthetic derivatives amphetamine and methamphetamine, from the plant “Ephedra vulgaris”


Lazar Edeleanu synthesizes amphetamineat the Humboldt University in Berlin.


Heinrich Hoffmann publishes his children´s book „Struwwelpeter“ including the story of „Fidgety Phil".


Alexander Crichton describes in his book “An inquiry into the nature and origin of mental derangement” a mental state reminiscent of the inattentive subtype of ADHD.

Before 1798

While stories of restive and undisciplined children are as old as humanity itself, reports of fidgety and restless children in a more closely medical context can be traced back at least as far as 1798.