Hyperactive: The Controversial History of ADHD

Author(s): Matthew Smith

Popular Science

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is one of the most common developmental disorders, with an average of 9 per cent of children between the ages of five and seventeen diagnosed per year in the USA. It is also one of the most controversial. Since the 1950s, when hyperactivity in children was first diagnosed, psychiatrists, educators, parents and politicians have debated the causes, treatment and implications of the disorder. Hyperactive: The Controversial History of ADHD is the first history of the disorder. Matthew Smith highlights the limitations of regarding ADHD as simply neurological, and contends that hyperactive children are also a product of their social, cultural, political and educational environment. Instead of simply accepting conventional understandings of ADHD, this book addresses the questions central to the emergence of the disorder: Why were children first diagnosed with the disorder? Why did biological explanations become predominant? Why did powerful drugs become the preferred treatment? And why have alternative explanations failed to achieve legitimacy?
By thinking through these issues Smith demonstrates how knowledge of the disorder's history can be used to empower those affected to make better choices about diagnosis and treatment. As a historian with past experience of working with troubled children and youth, Matthew Smith offers a history that is not only rigorous, but also accessible and highly relevant to those working with and caring for those diagnosed with ADHD. A revealing and clear-headed study of a controversial and emotive subject, this is an essential book for psychologists, teachers, policy makers and, above all, parents.


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'Matthew Smith persuasively demonstrates the historical contingency of our ideas about hyperactivity. Well written, complex yet sharply argued, this book is a sorely needed corrective to today's therapeutic "common sense" and the ocean of pharmaceuticals it sanctions.' - -- David Herzberg, Associate Professor author of Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac 'As Matthew Smith demonstrates in this excellent study, there is arguably no more contentious childhood condition than hyperactivity or ADHD. Since the term was first introduced in the decades following the Second World War, hyperactivity has been variably explained in terms of genetic constitution, faulty parenting, an inability to cope with the pace and pressure of modern life, and increased sensitivity to food additives. Hyperactive explores debates about the biological, social and cultural contours of a condition that continues to puzzle doctors, frustrate teachers, and destroy families. It will surely be of value not only to historians of medicine, but also to the parents, teachers, psychiatrists and policy-makers involved in the daily struggle to cope with hyperactive children.' - -- Mark Jackson, Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Exeter

Matthew Smith is a Lecturer and Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde. He is a past winner of the Roy Porter Prize and the Pressman-Burroughs Wellcome Award.

General Fields

  • : 9781780230313
  • : Reaktion Books
  • : Reaktion Books
  • : September 2012
  • : 216mm X 138mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : September 2012
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Hardback
  • : 616.8589
  • : 208
  • : Matthew Smith