Would Renaming ADHD Better Describe the Disorder?
Tuesday, October 31 2017 Noelle Matteson
Renaming attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is on my mind because, in honor of ADHD Awareness Month, I binged on lectures by ADHD-expert Dr. Russell Barkley. He points out that “attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder” is a poor term for the condition, and he is not alone in thinking that renaming ADHD is a good idea. Fellow ADHD-specialist Dr. Edward Hallowell claims that “ADHD is a terrible term,” and many with this condition agree, myself included. I started to wonder about the history of the term, if there were alternative names for the disorder, and if renaming ADHD could reduce ADHD stigma.
Why Renaming ADHD Is a Good Idea
The term “ADHD” does not capture the complexity of the disorder. ADHD-ers tend to have a surplus rather than a deficit of attention as they can hyperfocus on a single activity or become distracted by an abundance of sensory information. In regards to hyperactivity, the range of people with ADHD, and the fact that the hyperactivity is often internal rather than external, means that many ADHD-ers are not visibly hyperactive at all. Renaming ADHD could increase understanding of the disorder.
The name also contributes to ADHD’s four-letter-word stigma. People often conflate having a short attention-span with immaturity, and hyperactivity gives the impression of an uncontrollable child. It can be dismissed in children as “kids being kids” and in adults as laziness and insensitivity.
Renaming ADHD with a Historical Term Isn't the Best Idea
In 1798, the physician Alexander Crichton described a “disease of attention” that resembles modern ADHD in some senses but also seems to include a number of other disorders. In the mid-19th century, another doctor, Heinrich Hoffman, wrote a story about “Fidgety Phil” and another about “Johnny Look-in-the-air,” two boys who manifested the “hyperactivity” and “attention-deficit” sides of ADHD.
Throughout the 20th century, what we now call ADHD cycled through many terms, including “organic driveness,” “morbid defects of moral control,” “minimal brain dysfunction,” and “hyperkinetic reaction of childhood.”
None of these struck me as particularly flattering, nor good descriptors to use for renaming ADHD.
Renaming ADHD Probably Won't Happen
Unfortunately, on YouTube, Dr. Barkley asserts that the term ADHD will not be replaced because it is already entrenched in numerous laws and regulations. Still, he prefers the term “self-regulation-deficit disorder” (SRDD) and sometimes refers to ADHD as executive function, working memory, and motivation-deficit disorders.
I like the simple “attention regulation-deficit disorder” because the issue is a matter of attention management rather than deficiency. People at ADHD Health suggest “attention-deficit hyperfocusing dysregulation.”
Some sillier terms that come to mind are the “monkey mind” and “curiosity-killed-the-cat” disorders.
If we were to create another name for ADHD, what would you choose? What do you think encapsulates the condition? Do you think it’s possible to come up with a better term, or do you think ADHD fits fairly well? Let me know in the comments.
P.S. Have a happy Halloween.
Barkley, Russell. “ADHD Is a Disorder of Executive Functioning.” CADDAC Conference via ADHD Videos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wccW-KB2OsI.
Hallowell, Edward. “ADHD Overview.” Dr. Hallowell: Live a Better Life. http://www.drhallowell.com/add-adhd/.
Hallowell, Edward, and John Ratey. “The Evolution of a Disorder.” Reprinted from Driven to Distraction. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/medicating/adhd/evolution.html.
Lange, Klaus, et al. “The history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” ADHD Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3000907/.
Wilson, Charles. “The History of ADHD.” ADHD Health. http://www.adhd-health.com/adhd/adhdhistory.php.
Wright, Sarah. “A Brief History of ADHD (& ADHD Awareness Week).” Impact ADHD. http://impactadhd.com/manage-emotions-and-impulses/a-brief-history-of-adhd-awareness-week/.
1 Hallowell, Edward. “ADHD Overview.” Drhallowell.com.