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History of hyperactivity off-base, says researcher
Date:5/27/2009

A Canadian researcher working in the U.K. says doctors, authors and educators are doing hyperactive children a disservice by claiming that hyperactivity as we understand it today has always existed.

Matthew Smith says not only is that notion wrong, it misleads patients, their parents and their physicians. Smith, who is from Edmonton, is finishing up his PhD at the Centre for Medical History at the University of Exeter.

Hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is currently the most commonly diagnosed childhood psychiatric disorder, says Smith, and millions of children are prescribed drugs such as Ritalin to treat it. Yet prior to the 1950s, it was clinically and culturally insignificant.

He argues in a paper presented at the Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences taking place at Ottawa's Carleton University this week, that hyperactivity disorder as we understand it today is a modern construct that was first described as a disorder in 1957.

Before that, Smith says hyperactive behaviour existed but it wasn't always thought of as a disorder or pathology worth treating.

However, Smith says many today assert that hyperactivity is a universal phenomenon, and say evidence of hyperactivity can be seen in historical figures such as Mozart or Einstein. Smith argues that hyperactivity as we understand it is rooted in social, cultural, political and economic changes of the last half century.

"When history is extended back beyond 1957, it overlooks all the social factors that contributed to the idea that children were hyperactive and that that was a problem," he says.

"We need to refocus the history of hyperactivity on the period starting from the late 1950s and 60s. "By doing so, we start to understand why people started to think there was a problem with children, why they thought that problem needed to be fixed, and why it became acceptable to fix that problem with drugs."

Smith says that whether
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Contact: Caitlin Kealey
ckealey@fedcan.ca
613-520-3552
Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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