History of hyperactivity off-base, says researcher - Educators do children and parents a disservice by claiming Mozart and others had ADHD

    OTTAWA, May 27 /CNW Telbec/ - 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
    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 you consider hyperactivity a disease worth
treating often depends on context - and the context changed in the late 1950s
when the U.S. refocused its education system in response to the space race.
    "If a child's playing soccer, there's a chance hyperactivity isn't going
to be a problem. But if they are stuck in a classroom, it is a problem.
    "We have to look at the social and historical factors that created the
idea that children were distractible and that these were pathologies that
needed to be treated.
    "For patients and their parents, what this means is that the process by
which their children are diagnosed is not rooted in a long history. If they
understand that, they can develop the tools to question the diagnosis."
    Organized by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social
Sciences, Congress 2009 brings together over 8,000 researchers from Canada and
around the world.

For further information:

For further information: Congress 2009 media team, (613) 520-3552,
ckealey@fedcan.ca, lin_moody@carleton.ca

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