Attention and Concentration Disorders Throughout History
Attention and concentration disorders are most common in children and adolescents but can last into adulthood. Although not all attention problems in childhood are ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly associated with attention and focus challenges.
Children with ADHD have different brain development and activity patterns, which affect their attention, impulsivity, self-control, and ability to focus and stay still. Difficulties with inattentiveness, impulsivity, and disorganization affect the child’s home and school lives and their ability to get along with others.
While ADHD is often considered a modern-day condition, attention and concentration deficits were first mentioned at the beginning of the 20th century. Namely, in 1902, a British pediatrician, Sir George Frederick Still (1), first mentioned what we today know as ADHD. He described it as “an abnormal defect of moral control in children.” (2)
Our understanding of attention and concertation disorders has changed significantly since this first definition. Today, many experts now regard ADHD as a neurodiverse condition, explaining attention and concentration issues through differences in how people’s brains work.
ADHD vs. Concentration Deficit Disorder (CDD)
ADHD typically manifests itself in three subtypes:
- Predominantly inattentive
- Primarily impulsive and hyperactive
- The combination of the two
Concentration deficit disorder is often considered an inattentive aspect of ADHD, as many of its symptoms resemble those of ADHD. (3)
- Common signs of concentration deficit disorder include:
- Trouble staying focused on tedious tasks
- Excessive daydreaming
- Difficulty remembering things and using knowledge
- Slow information processing
- Lethargic behavior
However, today CDD is considered more a separate disorder than a subtype of ADHD. (4)
What Has Changed in Our Understanding of Attention and Concentration Disorders Over Time?
Even though ADHD was known before the turn of the century, it was not in the APA’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)” when it came out in 1952.
In the 1960s, researchers became aware of concentration disorder, noting that attention problems were not always associated with ADHD and calling it Sluggish Cognitive Tempo (SCT). However, Dr. Russell Barkley, a clinical psychologist and ADHD researcher, has suggested a new term: concentration deficit disorder (CDD).
In the 1980s, the APA published the third version of the DMM (DSM-III), in which attention deficit disorder (ADD) was listed as an official disorder. At the time, experts did not consider hyperactivity a common indication of this condition.
Finally, in a revised DSM-III version published in 1987, the name was changed to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Since they often struggle to follow orders, manage their emotions, and stay focused, society has always seen children with attention and concentration difficulties as challenging and problematic.
Today, we know that attention and concentration issues in kids and adults with ADHD and CDD are strongly linked to their executive skills.
Seeing Attention and Concentration Disorders as Neurodiversity
Executive function involves attention, cognitive flexibility, memory, and cognitive control. Focus and concentration are essential executive skills that allow for all other cognitive processes, such as:
- Critical thinking
Research shows that children with ADHD develop their executive function more slowly than children who don’t have ADHD. This causes their executive skills to develop later than children who don’t have ADHD.
For this reason, children with attention and concentration disorders have difficulty focusing, solving problems, and memorizing facts. In addition, they may struggle with impulsivity, emotional control, and frustration tolerance.
Furthermore, studies reveal that in children with ADHD, the area of the brain that governs repetitive behaviors has a lower amount of dopamine receptors and transmitters, which play an essential role in cognition, motivation, and reward-motivated behavior.
This new understanding has led to the recognition that ADHD and other attention problems are a type of neurodiversity. According to the neurodiversity concept, neurodiverse people’s brains operate differently. (5)
The idea of neurodiversity can help reduce the stigma associated with learning and cognitive issues, appreciate and celebrate each child’s individuality, and assist them in reaching their full potential.
Take care and keep healthy and positive,