By Matthew Smith
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Extra resources for Hyperactivity : a History of ADHD
When did boys like Dennis begin to be seen as hyperactive? If Dennis was not the ﬁrst hyperactive child, who was? A quick foray into any medical search engine suggests that one possible answer to the ﬁrst question is 1957. 1 As for who the ﬁrst hyperactive child was, it is impossible to say, but it is safe to assume that he was an American, male and, given that he was diagnosed during the late 1950s, he was a member of the Baby Boom generation. Why was this the case? The answer to this considerably more diﬃcult question is central to any meaningful understanding of why hyperactivity has become such a pervasive phenomenon during the last 50 years.
What Still and Clouston did accomplish was to identify a small group of children who were neither intellectually disabled nor brain damaged, but whose troubling behaviour was similar to children with such conditions. In so doing, they began the process of applying medical terminology and aetiology to socially and educationally inappropriate behaviours exhibited by children. It is more this process, rather than the identiﬁcation of hyperactivity in children, which bears a resemblance to the research conducted by child psychiatrists on hyperactivity half a century later.
This is one of the key distinctions between the handful of articles written about hyperactive behaviour prior to the 1950s and the thousands of articles published since. If the links between the descriptions of Crichton, Hoﬀmann, Still and others and how hyperactivity was depicted during the late 1950s are so tenuous, then why are they emphasized in most accounts of the disorder’s history? One reason is that such histories ﬁt into the traditional way in which medical history has been described, particularly by physicians.