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[Perspectives] Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Think of all the names we have for children who cause trouble in classrooms: difficult, disruptive, naughty, attention-seeking, badly brought up, just plain bad. After the end of World War 2, American psychiatrists, pharmaceutical companies, and educationalists added a new term to this list, and a potent new frame for bad behaviour. Children who could not keep themselves in a chair or concentrate on a blackboard were not difficult or bad but hyperactive. They were suffering, so the new argument ran, from “a genetic, neurological glitch”, in the words of the historian Matthew Smith, and their condition could be managed with regular doses of stimulants.