According to add-adhd infoplus.com, the study of the attention disorder, including perception and learning disabilities related to the brain and its functioning, had its first serious beginnings in the 1930’s. Prior to that time, science had amassed two significant sets of data associated with brain injuries that provided similar sets of behavioral and cognitive results. First, in World War I and in the early years of World War II, many soldiers were found to have developed serious learning, behavioral and attention disorders, following their sustainment of serious head injuries. Second, the severe encephalitis epidemics of 1916 and 1917 left many of those who survived with a level of permanent brain damage that resulted in learning, behavioral and attention disorders similar to those seen in the injured soldiers.
Also during the 1930’s, another scientist who was studying language and reading difficulties in children identified behavioral, learning and attention disorders that were similar to the symptoms identified for persons who had sustained brain injuries or brain damage. This study was significant to the development of an understanding of the various forms of attention disorder since scientists soon began to theorize that brain damage could occur due to less visible factors such as lack of oxygen during birth, high fevers during infancy, genetic predispositions, etc. In general, the collection of symptoms identified for all of these populations of patients included hyperactivity, perception problems, language delays and disorders, distractibility and inattention, and poor coordination and motor skills. From the 1930’s through the early 1960’s, the patient and the syndrome were identified as “brain injured.”
During these studies in the late 1930’s, the use of amphetemines was also first identified and used successfully to improve the behavioral and learning abilities of these various “brain-damaged” patients.
The next major leap in our understanding of the various forms of attention disorder occurred in the 1960’s. Scientists at this time introduced the term “minimal brain dysfunction” or “MBD” and characterized the syndrome with the most commonly recognized symptoms at that time, including hyperactivity, wide mood swings, inattention and distractibility, impulsivity, and memory and learning disorders.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, there was also significant progress in the educational approach to MBD children. Educational experts reconized the key issues of distractibility and inattention in the MBD students and began their first experiments with reducing excess stimuli in the classroom such as colors, noises and the behaviors of others in the classroom in order to improve the focus of the MBD child. In 1973, Public Law 94-142 was passed and guaranteed a free and appropriate education for handicapped children equal to the quality of eduction provided to other children.
From 1968 to 1994, the definition of the various forms of Attention Disorder were refined by the medical community and documented by the American Psychiatric Association in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), with the following refinements over time:
1968: The term “hyperkinetic reaction to childhood” was adopted to describe the symptoms previously defined for MBD.
1980: In the DSM 3rd edition (1980), the term “Attention Deficit Disorder” was introduced and included two forms of the condition (with or without hyperactivity) with the following criteria: presence of hyperactivity, inattention and/or impulsivity, occurring before age 7, present for at least 6 months, and not caused by other mental disorders.
1987: In the DSM-III-R, the term applied was “Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder” and included a single specified threshhold for a positive diagnosis based on the total number of symptoms falling within the areas of hyperactivity, inattention and/or impulsivity.
1994: In the DSM-IV, the term “Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder” was retained, but the age criteria was removed and a “settings” criteria was added. Per the DSM-IV criteria, the ADHD symptoms must appear in 2 out of the 3 settings of home, school, and work. The DSM-IV Criteria is the criteria currently used today by medical practitioners in diagnosing ADHD.