The history of ADHD – The oldest known parts from 1798 –

The History of ADHD: 1798, Alexander Crichton
By permission from: ADHD uppmärksammas koncentrerat digest

Part 1 of the adhd history
The earliest well documented description of adhd and

1798, a Scottish-born physician and author, Sir Alexander Crichton
(1763-1856), described what seems to be a similar mental state much
like the inattentive subtype of ADHD, in his book An inquiry into the
nature and origin of mental derangement: comprehending a concise system
of the physiology and pathology of the human mind and a history of the
passions and their effects. In the chapter ”Attention”, Crichton
described a ”mental restlessness”.
incapacity of attending with a necessary degree of constancy to any one
object, almost always arises from an unnatural or morbid sensibility of
the nerves, by which means this faculty is incessantly withdrawn from
one impression to another. It may be either born with a person or it
may be the effect of accidental diseases.
born with a person it becomes evident at a very early period of life,
and has a very bad effect, inasmuch as it renders him incapable of
attending with constancy to any one object of education. But it seldom
is in so great a degree as totally to impede all instruction; and what
is very fortunate, it is generally diminished with age.” p. 271

Crichton further observed:

this disease of attention, if it can with propriety be called so, every
impression seems to agitate the person, and gives him or her an
unnatural degree of mental restlessness. People walking up and down the
room, a slight noise, in the same, the mowing a, the shutting a door
suddenly, a flight excess of heat or of cold, to much light or to
little light, all destroy constant attention in such patients. Inasmuch
as it is easily is exited by every impression.” p 272
noted: ‘they have a particular name for the state of their nerves,
which is expressive enough of their feelings. They say they have the
fidgets” p 272
Dr. Crichton suggested that
these children needed special educational intervention and noted that
it was obvious that they had a problem attending even how hard they did

”Every public teacher must have observed that there are many to whom
the dryness and difficulties of the Latin and Greek grammars are so
disgusting that neither the terrors of the rod, nor the indulgence of
any kind intreaty can cause them to give their attention to them.” p.
Alexander Crichton was almost two
centuries ahead of his time in his observations of what is now known as
the Inattention subtype of ADHD. He wrote about the salient features of
this disorder, including attentional problems, restlessness, early
onset, and how it can affect schooling, without any of the moralism
introduced by George Still and later authors of the subject.
Dr Crichton described all the essential features of the inattentive
subtype of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder which were almost entirely consistent
with the criteria for the inattentive subtype as portrayed in DSM-IV (APA,2000) (Palmer & Finger, 2001).


Crichton : An inquiry into the nature and origin of mental derangement
: comprehending a concise system of the physiology and pathology of the
human mind and a history of the passions and their effects. 1798.
Some abnormal psychical conditions in children: the Goulstonian lectures”. The Lancet’, 1902;1:1008-1012
A. Barkley: The Relevance of the Still Lectures to Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder A Commentary. 2006; 10; 137 J Atten Disord.
George F. Still Some Abnormal Psychical Conditions in Children: Excerpts From Three Lectures 2006; 10; 126 J Atten Disord.
E. D., and Finger, S. 2001. An early description of ADHD(Inattention
Subtype): Dr. Alexander Crichton and the ”MentalRestlessness” (1798).
Child Psychology and Psychiatry Reviews, 6, 66-73.
Many Thanks to:
Professor Russell Barkley for material and kind advice.
Professor Stanley Finger; at Washington University in St. Louis.

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