Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD has been studied only in the 20th century. Prior to this, a hyperactive, inattentive and impulsive child with reading problems, would be labelled as “feeble-minded”.

The following are the differences in perspectives toward children with ADHD during the 19th Century and 21st Century.

Cause and nature of ADHD

During the 19th century, a child possessing the characteristics of a person with ADHD would be identified as feeble-minded5. They used feeble-mindedness to refer to all grades of mental defectiveness except insanity5.

They used to believe that feeble-mindedness may occur at any mental stage of infancy, childhood or youth5. It was said to be often caused by coarse brain-disease and always the product of abnormal conditions of the brain or other nerve tissue5.

In the 21st century, a child who exhibits a characteristic pattern of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsiveness that lead to adverse outcomes would be diagnosed as having ADHD. It is an invariably chronic and not an episodic disorder7. The exact cause of ADHD has not yet been established.

Parents to a child with ADHD, from birth to 5 years

During the 19th century, parents of hyperactive/inattentive children were advised to patiently and persistently instruct and remind the child to be attentive9. They should also show him the damages that inattentiveness could cause9.

These days, experts on ADHD would advise the parents to implement positive reinforcement whenever he is observed to be paying attention appropriately1. They should consistently monitor him to prevent accidental injuries associated with impulsive behaviour1. They should also actively stimulate his cognitive skills, particularly on phonemic awareness, through frequent interaction with him and regular exposure to children’s literature and educational TV shows1.

Educators to a school-aged child with ADHD

If a child could not do a class work as expected, a teacher in the 19th century would make him do the work over and over again until he got it right4. This would be done outside class hours4. Whenever a child misbehaved, he would be punished physically until he was old enough to understand verbal reprimand4.

If a child had a reading problem, he would be given lots of practice, with the teacher insisting that he pay attention and fix his eyes on his reading material4. He would also be made to read his part again if he failed to read loudly and distinctly4.

Currently, educators are encouraged to employ gestures when communicating with students both in class/group and individual contexts to ensure student success8. They are urged to involve a child with ADHD in class, affirm his actions as soon as he behaves well and correct his wrongs gently as soon as he commits them8.

Society to an adult with ADHD

In the past, society was taught that feeble-minded people should be deprived from pleasures and opportunities because they could cause injury and were unfit for free, social life5. The thinking was that they should, by all means, be prevented from leaving offspring or else the average standard of manhood and womanhood, both physical and mental, will inevitably be lowered5. In simpler words, it was okay to kill or castrate people identified to be feeble-minded for the sake of humankind.

In the 21st century, society is implored to provide alternative means of accessing print such as e-text or audio files so that a person with ADHD can advance himself personally and professionally despite his difficulty in reading3. His peers, family members and spouse should provide him with honest and non-derogatory feedback on his strengths and weaknesses6. This could aid him in choosing an occupation that would suit him6.

Supervisors and employers are also implored to be enlightened enough to hire a person with ADHD as long as he can do the job. They are also encouraged to provide accommodations for effective functioning in the workplace6.

Indeed, the world is now kinder to people with ADHD unlike two centuries ago. Parents with children who exhibit characteristics of ADHD are freer to make certain requests to ensure that their children can cope with school demands. In the present century, a person with ADHD can definitely enjoy and succeed in whatever endeavour he chooses to take on.


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