The History of ADHD

The first mention of ADHD was in 1902 when British paediatrician Sir George Frederic Still described “an abnormal defect of moral control in children.”

Sadly, this statement set the tone for how ADHD was to be perceived for the next 100 years by introducing the idea of it being a moral defect – that it was somehow a failing or the fault of the person with it. It was also associated with the idea of little boys bouncing off walls.

The American Psychiatric Association did not recognise ADHD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the main authority for psychiatric diagnoses) until 1968 when it was called the “hyperkinetic reaction of childhood.”

It was not called ADHD until 1980, and the definition in use today was only established in 2000.

The NHS has accepted ADHD as a condition since 2009. This shows how relatively recent the recognition of ADHD is.



ADHD is complicated because it presents so differently from one person to another. Common symptoms include poor time management, impulsivity, disorganisation, procrastination and distraction. They range in severity and scope from one person to the next. What everyone has in common, though, is that managing certain important aspects of their daily lives is hard – especially in a world that is generally organised for the neurotypical. This daily struggle can lead to anxiety, stress, shame and anger, which over time can result in a lack of confidence, burnout, and underperformance.

This is further complicated by the coping strategies that most people with ADHD adopt and the fact that many, especially women (who do not get spotted), become very adept at masking – adopting behaviours to conceal what is really going on.


There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding ADHD, the most pervasive one is that it is not really “a thing”.

It really is a thing, though – the brains of people with the condition are measurably different from those without it.

These differences are significant, and they are real. If not taken seriously and addressed, dysfunction and unhappiness will ensue.

It has nothing to do with intelligence or “laziness” and very little to do with small boys bouncing off walls.  Not everyone is hyperactive and not all hyperactivity is external. Also it is not so much about attention deficit it is more about the capacity to regulate attention.

People who do not have it often say, “I’m having an ADHD moment” when they get distracted, or someone says, “Yeah, I think I have it, I’m always zoning out”, or “We all procrastinate, what’s special about ADHD?”

For someone who actually has ADHD, this is demoralising as it trivialises something that can be a struggle every day and has life-altering consequences.


ADHD has traditionally been defined by what is wrong with a person. However, there are many significant benefits of ADHD. So much so that many people refer to them as their superpowers and would not willingly become ‘neurotypical’.

These include:

Hyperfocus – if something is interesting to them, a person with ADHD can really concentrate intently on it for a long time. This means they can work extremely quickly and productively if inspired or under stress.

Ingenuity – The life of someone with ADHD is about workarounds, finding ways to get things done, and unexpected associations and pattern recognitions are part of the deal.

Generous – They get that it is not easy and often want to help people and connect with others.

Motivational – the high energy levels can, if directed, be contagious.

A disproportionate number of billionaires have ADHD; they are the ‘blue sky’ thinkers who leave the boring detail to neurotypicals while changing the world.

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