What's In a Name?

Our concept of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) continues to evolve. The first known reference to it is in a book by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman. The book is actually a series of children’s stories and poems. It was first published in 1844 in German. The poem about ADHD is called Fidgety Phil. Although that poem was penned over 150 years ago, the cluster of symptoms remains essentially the same. In contrast, our understanding of the underlying causes of the behavior has evolved tremendously.

To give you a quick run down on this evolution, here are some of the “highlights”.

  • 1902: the British medical journal Lancet characterized similar symptoms in children as Morbid Defects of Moral Control.
  • 1940s: the symptoms of distractibility, hyperactivity, and impulsivity were defined to be Minimal Brain Damage Syndrome.
  • 1962: when scientists were unable to associate anatomical brain damage with the symptoms in other children, they renamed it Minimal Brain Dysfunction.
  • 1968: the DSM-II defined this same cluster of symptoms as Hyperkinetic Syndrome of Childhood.
  • 1980: the DSM-III defined it based on behavioral and descriptive characteristics. Here’s where we first get Attention Deficit Disorder (with and without Hyperactivity).
  • 1987: the revised DSM-II changed the name again. The syndrome became known simply as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
  • 1994: the latest revision of the diagnostic manual, DSM-IV, was published with the definitions currently in use. The syndrome is now called Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and includes three subtypes: Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, Predominantly Inattentive Type, and Combined Type.

So currently, you’ll read in the literature or hear people refer to this syndrome as ADD, ADHD, or AD/HD. These are all ways to talk about the same thing, although some people will use ADD to refer to the inattentive type and ADHD to refer to both the hyperactive-impulsive type and the combined type.

Hope this has cleared up some of your confusion over terms!