ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The term “ADHD” is fairly new and has only been used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fourth edition text revision or DSM-IV-TR. The DSM is the manual that describes and defines mental health conditions.
ADHD is included in the DSM5 which is the current version. However, the symptoms we currently observe in those with ADHD have been documented at least as far back as 200 years ago. It’s possible that focused, scientific observation of people with symptoms we’d now call ADHD took place long before the DSM was published. However, these records may have been lost over the uncertainty of history.
In 1798, Sir Alexander Crichton, a Scottish physician, became the first known person to document traits similar to ADHD. Crichton worked to draw the line between what typical distraction was and when it digressed into something that interfered with optimal functioning. Crichton found that those with symptoms, comparative to what today we’d call ADHD, struggled to remain focused.
There were just too many external and internal stimuli vying for attention, from the barking dog outside, changes in room temperature, conversations in the background to the clattering of horse hooves outside. Those with attention difficulties struggled to function because they couldn’t filter out stimuli that, for many others, was second nature.
Crichton described this attention challenge as “the incapacity of attending with a necessary degree of constancy to any one object.”
This depiction is consistent with the American Psychiatric Association’s description of ADHD established in 2000. Today, to diagnose ADHD we have to determine that the client has the requisite symptoms and number of symptoms as laid out in the DSM and that there is no better explanation for their symptoms.
To make an ADHD diagnosis consistent with the DSM5, a clinician is required to: observe six or more of the following symptoms be clinically significant in children up to 16 years old and five or more for people 17 or older; observe that these symptoms were present for at least six months in such a manner as to disrupt the person’s developmental stage.
The symptoms include:
- Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat
- Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected
- Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless)
- Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly
- Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”
- Often talks excessively
- Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed
- Often has trouble waiting their turn
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)