Updated 17 July 2017

ADHD today

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is known by a number of aliases since its first clinical description a century ago. Learn more about this condition.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is known by a number of aliases since its first clinical description a century ago. In 1902, the first documented disorder characteristics were labeled as “Morbid Defect of Moral Control” [1], and subsequently “Post-encephalitic Behavior Disorders” [2] in 1922. In the early '60s, “Minimal Brain Dysfunction” was the phrase of choice, followed by “Hyperkinetic Reaction” a decade later. It wasn’t until the '80s that the term “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” was coined.

ADHD, as it is known today, is defined as being "a neurobiological disorder that interferes with an individual’s ability to regulate activity level and behaviour, and sustain focus on tasks in a developmentally appropriate way" [3].

In individuals with ADHD, lower than normal levels of certain neurotransmitters (substances that transmit signals between nerve cells) are present in the regions of the brain that are responsible for regulating attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity [4]. Typically, a child with ADHD struggles to stay focused on a task, is easily distracted and is excessively “on the go” in a manner that prevents him or her from performing well at school or in other settings. [5]

With the exact cause of ADHD still unknown, experts agree that family history of ADHD plays a role. Most cases are being diagnosed in children between the ages of four and six years. If left untreated, the majority of children living with this disorder will be at risk of developing low self-esteem, learning difficulties and even anti-social behaviour. [5]

Recent findings
According to recent findings, symptoms continue into adulthood for about a third of the children with ADHD. Research shows that many adults with ADHD have been living with the disorder since childhood, whether diagnosed or not. Often adults may be diagnosed with ADHD after their own child is referred for an evaluation. [6]

ADHD cannot simply be diagnosed by a blood test or physical assessment. Instead, a clinical diagnosis based on the patient’s history and the use of specially-designed diagnostic tools, will need to be conducted by specially trained healthcare professionals. [4]

The treatment of ADHD is multi-faceted and includes behaviour modification and medication, with treatments being tailored according to the needs of the individual. (Novartis, September 2009)

1. ADD ADHD Help Center, The History of ADHD and Attention Deficit Disorder, accessed on 24 August 2009. Available at
2. Ezine Articles, History of ADHD, accessed on 24 August 2009. Available at
3. ADHD Q&A & Media Statement May 09
4. Health24, ADHD in the classroom, accessed on 24 August 2009. Available at,35672.asp
5. Ritalin – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Novartis document).
6. Men’s Health, Adults with ADHD are everywhere, accessed on 24 August 2009. Available at


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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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