ADHD In Historical and Comparative Perspective: Medical, Educational and Public Approaches to Childhood Hyperactivity in the US and the UK, 1960-2010

  • Marie Reinholdt

    Student thesis: Phd


    Adding a much needed historical and comparative dimension to current debates about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the present thesis provides an analysis of the changing construction and treatment of childhood hyperactivity in Britain and the United States, focusing on the period from 1960 to 2010. The focal point is the historical discrepancy between the two countries in diagnostic and therapeutic practices, and the question of how and why perspectives have increasingly converged over the past 20 years. Whereas British medical and educational professionals continued to rely on environmental explanations and interventions for the vast bulk of disruptive behaviour in school children, the American concept of hyperactivity disorder from the 1960s onwards became increasingly inclusive and biomedical in orientation. This expansion was closely related to the rise of psycho-stimulants as a widely employed treatment for hyperactivity and attention problems in the US. British and other European clinicians, on the other hand, resisted drug treatments up until the mid-1990s, when rates of diagnosis and prescription grew dramatically on both sides of the Atlantic. A key aim of this study is to explore and explain the rise of ADHD and Ritalin in both the American and British contexts, looking at the interplay of political, professional, institutional and socio-cultural factors that have contributed in each case.The study concentrates on three distinct but interconnected spheres which, both separately and in combination, have underpinned and shaped approaches to hyperactivity in the two countries: medicine, education and the wider public arena, represented by parent support groups. While chapters 2, 3 and 4 focus on the medical debates and practices surrounding hyperactivity, and the points of connection and disconnection between the two medico-psychiatric communities, chapters 5 and 6 examine the role of schooling, disability activism, and educational policy, especially that relating to special educational needs. Finally, chapter 7 explores the issue of parent activism which has been an important factor in the growth and critique of ADHD in both settings.
    Date of Award1 Aug 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorJohn Pickstone (Supervisor)


    • parents
    • education
    • comparison
    • psychiatry
    • UK
    • US
    • ADHD/Hyperkinetic Disorder
    • history

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