Society doing hyperactive kids a disservice
Jun 18, 2009 - 11:30:22 AM

Authors and educators are doing hyperactive children a disservice by insisting that hyperactivity has always existed.

Canadian researcher Matthew Smith said not only is that notion wrong, it misleads patients, their parents and their physicians. Smith, from Edmonton is completing his doctorate at the Centre for Medical History, University of Exeter.

Hyperactivity disorder - is currently the most commonly diagnosed childhood psychiatric disorder, said Smith, and millions of children are prescribed drugs including Ritalin to treat it. Yet prior to the 1950s, it was clinically and culturally insignificant.

He argued in a paper that hyperactivity disorder as we understand it today is a modern construct that was first described in 1957. Before that hyperactive behaviour existed - but it wasn't always thought of as a disorder or pathology worth treating, said Smith.

However, Smith said many today assert that hyperactivity is a universal phenomenon, which can be seen in historical figures like Mozart or Einstein. Smith argues that hyperactivity 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.

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 US refocussed its education system in response to the space race, said an Exeter release.

'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,' he said.

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