Atten Defic Hyperact Disord. 2014 Mar;6(1):11-7 doi: 10.1007/s12402-013-0121-y. 2013 Dec 04.

The concept of instability: a French perspective on the concept of ADHD

Bader M, Hadjikhani N.


Historical references to the emergence of the current concept of ADHD typically cite descriptions from medical textbooks by Weikard (1775) and Crichton (An inquiry into the nature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 passion and their affects. Cardell Jr and Davies, Londres, 1798) on attention disorders, poems of Hoffman on hyperactive and impulsive behaviors (Der Struwwelpeter. Frankfurt am Main, Literarische Anstalt, 1843), as well as the work of Still (Lancet 1:1008-1012, 1077-1082, 1163-1168, 1902a, Lancet 159(4102):1008-1013, 1902b, Lancet 159(4103):1077-1082, 1902c, Lancet 159(4104):1163-1168, 1902d) on impulsive behaviors and defective moral regulation of behavior. The notion of "instability" developed by French physicians between 1887 and 1910 is rarely mentioned and often ignored. Writings from this period show that in France, the emergence of the concept of ADHD according to modern terminology comes from the notion of "mental instability" introduced in the 1890s under the leadership of Désiré-Magloire Bourneville at the Hospital Bicêtre in Paris, based on his observations of children and adolescents who had been labeled "abnormal" and placed in medical and educational institutions. In the early twentieth century, elaborating on the observations of Bourneville, Jean Phillipe and Georges Paul-Boncour showed the presence of a subgroup of "unstable" children who suffered from a disease entity in its own right within the population of "abnormal" schoolchildren (the terminology of the time). This new pathological entity included symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention, corresponding to today's classic triad of ADHD symptoms. While noting the lack of behavioral inhibition, clinical descriptions of Bourneville, Philip and Paul-Boncour also considered the notion of "moral disorder" which at that time played an important role in psychopathology. This resulted in some degree of confusion between impulsive symptoms and major behavioral disturbances often associated with ADHD.

PMID: 24307288