Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Where Was It Forty Years Ago?

I am not a physician and I am certainly not qualified to diagnose any medical condition. I am an educator who has spent thirty-two years in the field of education and has worked with students with all types of learning and behavior problems. I have seen how educators have struggled to work with students who are disrespectful, irresponsible, non-compliant, and sometimes violent. I have seen how school administrators, teachers, and even superintendents have been intimidated by parents who constantly argue to justify their children’s unseemly behavior.

Many years ago, if a child exhibited unacceptable behavior at school and that was outside the norm of what was considered acceptable, he was stigmatized as a problem behavior and was subject to severe disciplinary action that could have resulted in being sent to another school in another city. or possibly be expelled from school. Older students who were sixteen or seventeen were required to sign out of school and go to night school, join the service, or even take an exam to receive a GED.

What does a school or society do when there are so many of these students that we don’t know what to do with them? What do we do when the inmates start running the asylum? Many years ago, if a person burned the American flag, they were imprisoned. What does a society do if five thousand people burn the flag and the jails are not big enough to house them? You create a law that says the burning of the flag is protected by the First Amendment on freedom of speech and free speech. What do you do if instead of having a handful of students in a school who are disrespectful and irresponsible, you have a school full of these kids? Create a label to support their behavior, remove stigma, and excuse the behavior due to a medical condition, which in this case is called ADHD.

I was first introduced to ADHD around 1989 when I was talking to a psychiatrist about a hyperactive student attending a school where I worked as an administrator. When I referred to her as hyperactive, she said, “She’s not hyperactive, she has ADHD.” He went on to explain that this is the acronym we use now to describe children who are hyperactive. My master’s degree was in special education and the symptoms you described to me were the same as those used forty years ago to describe students who had neurological disabilities and were diagnosed as learning disabled with what was called minimal brain dysfunction. These students are protected by the Persons with Disabilities Act, which is special education law, and they receive the benefits and services associated with their condition. Students who are diagnosed with ADHD do so by using the checklist that is contained in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The American Psychiatric Association determined that ADHD is a mental disorder and added it to this manual in 1987. The checklist is below.

DSM-IV Criteria for ADHD

I. Either A or B:

A. Six or more of the following symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months to a point that is disruptive and developmentally inappropriate:


1. Often does not pay much attention to detail or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.

2. Often has trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities.

3. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.

4. Often fails to follow directions and does not complete schoolwork, housework, or workplace duties (not due to oppositional behavior or lack of understanding of directions).

5. Often has trouble organizing activities.

6. Often avoids, dislikes, or does not want to do things that require a lot of mental effort over a long period of time (such as homework or schoolwork).

7. Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (for example, toys, homework, pencils, books, or tools).

8. Often easily distracted.

9. You are often forgetful in your daily activities.

B. Six or more of the following symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to a degree that is disturbing and developmentally inappropriate:


1. Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat.

2. Often gets out of seat when expected to stay in seat.

3. Often runs or climbs when and where it is not appropriate (teens or adults may feel very restless).

4. Often has trouble playing or enjoying leisure activities quietly.

5. It is often “in motion” or acts as if it is “driven by a motor.”

6. Often talks excessively.


1. Often blurts out answers before questions are finished.

2. You often have trouble waiting your turn.

3. Often interrupts or intrudes with others (for example, intrudes on conversations or games).

II. Some symptoms that cause deterioration were present before the age of 7 years.

III. In two or more settings (eg, at school / work and at home) there is some alteration of symptoms.

IV. There must be clear evidence of significant impairment in social, school, or work functioning.

V. Symptoms do not occur only during the course of a pervasive developmental disorder, schizophrenia, or other psychotic disorder. Symptoms are not better explained by another mental disorder (eg, mood disorder, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, or personality disorder).

Based on these criteria, three types of ADHD are identified:

1. ADHD, combined type: if criteria 1A and 1B are met during the last 6 months

2. ADHD, predominantly inattentive type: if criterion 1A is met but criterion 1B is not met during the last six months

3. ADHD, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type: if Criterion 1B is met but Criterion 1A has not been met during the last six months.

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

After looking at this list, I am convinced that I have ADHD, as do my children, as does anyone I have come in contact with. Anyone could have six or more of these symptoms and could easily be diagnosed with the mental illness of ADHD.

ADHD is not protected by the People with Disabilities Act. It cannot be because there are now too many people who have been diagnosed with this condition. There is not a single state that can afford to channel special education funds to local districts to work with the large number of students who have been diagnosed with this condition. . In 1991, when such major educational organizations as the National Education Association (NEA), the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) successfully opposed the licensing of the Congress of ADD as a legally disabling condition, NEA spokeswoman Debra DeLee wrote, “Establishing a new category [ADD] based solely on behavioral characteristics, such as over-activity, impulsivity, and inattention, increases the likelihood of inappropriate labeling for racial, ethnic, and linguistic minority students. “And Peg Dawson, former president of NASP, noted:” We do not believe that label proliferation is the best way to address the ADD problem. It is in the best interest of all children that we stop creating categories of exclusion and begin to respond to the needs of every child. ā€¯However, ADD continues to gain traction as the label of the day in American education. It is time to stop and take stock of this “disorder” and decide if it really exists or if it is more a manifestation of society’s need to have such disorder.

Where was ADHD forty years ago? Did it exist? I do not believe it. I believe this condition was created by society and schools to excuse the nonconforming behaviors that we see in our students today. The change was incremental and escaped us. Now we don’t know what to do and now we are creating labels that support the behavior. When parents and educators can find a label or reason to support disrespect and irresponsibility, they are almost relieved to find that it is not their inability to discipline their students or children, but the condition that is causing the problem. So what is the answer? I really do not know. In a progressive society we always seek to advance. Perhaps in this case we need to go back and not accept behaviors that in years past were totally unacceptable. We may need to raise our expectations and demand respect and responsibility from our children and reduce our tolerance for behaviors that may require good old-fashioned discipline.

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