ADHD, a new condition?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has only been recognised by medical science relatively recently, initially in children and now in adults, as it was assumed that children with ADHD developed into adults with bipolar disorder. Why is this? Is ADHD in children new? Is it due to the advancement in medical science or do environmental and sociological factors play a part? Human evolution is a very slow process, so it is unlikely that it is due to a sudden physiological change and therefore it is probably not new. Clearly the ability of medical science to recognise conditions has grown exponentially over the last fifty years, but has there been a sociological change that has contributed to the visibility of the condition?

In the western world, there has been a major change in the attitude of society towards children: fifty years ago, expressions like children should be seen and not heard and spare the rod and spoil the child were prevalent and socially acceptable. Today we are far more accepting of allowing self-expression and self-determination in children, which is without doubt a general improvement, however could this have an impact of those with ADHD?

Adults and to some extend children who successfully manage ADHD often do so by clearly structuring their lives: allocating time for specific activities and avoiding interruption and distraction. In other words, they create boundary conditions in which they live. Part of the mental and social development of adolescents is the exploration of boundaries, they learn social norms by pushing the boundaries and will either succeed or be pushed back. Education and parental care of fifty years ago usually set far stricter boundaries that does the modern education and parental authority with children left in little doubt as to when they crossed the line as physical punishment often followed.

So, could the relaxation of authority towards children and specifically the blurring of acceptable boundaries alongside the demands “of always” on social media be a contributing factor towards ADHD? Certainly, it is not the cause of the condition, but is may allow the condition to be more obvious. ADHD is often misinterpreted as disruptive behaviour in children and our modern society accepts more disruptive behaviour as a form of self-expression, compared with previous generations.

Recognition of neurodevelopmental conditions at an early age enables an education in condition self-management, or treatment in more extreme cases – this must be a good thing. However, general societal education is required to enable adults to recognise ADHD as a neurodevelopmental condition and to acknowledge the special talents of those with these conditions and not just dismiss them as a naughty child.

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