Related to this Q it's pretty easy to confirm from the meme the part that claim that Leon Eisenberg said what he said about ADHD, using e.g. his Wikipedia page where Der Spiegel is given as source for the quote.

On the other hand, is he the "inventor" or "scientific father" of ADHD, which is another part of the meme? (The longer white-on-black text uses a different phrase than title on yellow background.)

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His role in establishing the disease in the DSM for example isn't at all clear from Wikipedia. So what research did he conduct on ADHD or on what DSM committees was he to justify the claim that he was the inventor in some sense? [His Wikipedia bio is extremely long, with tons of publications listed etc., which suggests the page is a job by huge fan-- e.g. it also also says he is 'known as "the father of prevention science in psychiatry"', but doesn't explain what role (if any) he may have played in establishing ADHD in the psychiatric nosology.]

FWTW, a bit more googling on this, found an auto-biographical claim of Eisenberg from 2007, namely that he and Michael Rutter pushed for the inclusion in DSM II:

Mike Rutter and I participated in a World Health Organization Seminar on Diagnosis and Classification in Child Psychiatry in 1967. We had to argue vigorously for the inclusion of hyperkinesis as a syndrome (Rutter et al 1969). Other participants were highly skeptical about the frequency with which the diagnosis of hyperkinesis was used in the United States. Most U.K. psychiatrists allocated the symptom complex to the category ‘behavior disorder’. We won the debate. In consequence, hyperkinetic reaction of childhood appeared as a category in DSM II in 1968. It was not, however, until DSM III (1980) that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) entered the official lexicon.

This part is probably closer to an answer, but checking Rutter's bio on Wikipedia, it's also not very illuminating (but it's much shorter than Eisenberg's). I'm slightly skeptical however that a debate at a WHO seminar settled a DSM debate even in 1968, given how US psychiatry is/was parochial enough to have its own manual/classification. Are there third-party sources that confirm Rutter and Eisenberg's importance in the establishment of ADHD or at least of hyperkinesis in DSM II?

The 1969 paper he cites has some 300+ citations in Google Scholar, but IMHO this is pretty low for it to be a seminal paper in a field like psychiatry. (The paper itself turns out to be a report on the seminar, of sorts.) There are newer papers with thousand of citations, in one journal alone [that makes it easy to rank them]. A concrete example from the same sub-field would be this paper about ADD with and without hyperactivity, which has 700+ citations in GS. The related paper which they cite as seminal to this distinction has some 1000+ GS citations. (Speaking of which, ADD variant without the H was a distinct DSM-III addition that Eisenberg doesn't seem to claim to have contributed to.) Or, ahem, this history paper with some 800 citations in GS, which alas doesn't say who pushed for hyperactivity to be included in DSM-II, although it covers some earlier descriptions of perhaps similar syndromes to a great extent.

In fact the [1969] 22-page paper has about two paragraphs about hyperkientic syndrome as such because the seminar discussed all of the psychiatric nosology of then. It cites no other papers for that section and is written in an impersonal style...

It was suggested that there was a need for a category such as "hyperkinetic syndrome" [...]

There was general agreement that such a syndrome was often encountered by child psychiatrists and it was decided that the category of "hyperkinetic syndrome" was needed and should be included in the classification scheme. [...] On the whole, most participants felt that "hyperkinetic disorder" should be classified as a sub-category of "developmental disorder" as there were many similarities with the other conditions under this general heading. Only further clinical experience and further research would determine whether ultimately this was the right place to include it.

So, yeah, the official record doesn't help too much here. Also "the classification scheme" really refers to the ICD there (in its envisioned 1975 revision) as the intro to the paper/seminar makes clear. Who was in charge of DSM-II [1968] and how they were convinced is slightly less straightforward.

  • Short answer: No, because unless you're a malicious biochemist you don't "invent" diseases or disorders. He probably wasn't even the first to discover ADHD, just the first to formally document and define it as a distinct thing that existed. To claim that he "invented" it is to grossly misunderstand the way medical science -- and, frankly, science in general -- works. Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 7:38
  • @Shadur: So lets fix the question. The original claim isnt that he was the inventor, but the (metaphorical) father.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 8:07
  • 1
    @oddthinking The problem is that the assertion that he 'invented' it is part of the bad-faith argument the meme puts forth in that he made ADHD up out of whole cloth, in order to provide Big Pharma with another way to sell pills. Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 8:12

2 Answers 2


No, he is not the first to describe this phenomenon in published literature.

The first example of a disorder that appears to be similar to ADHD was given by Sir Alexander Crichton in 1798. Crichton was a Scottish physician who was born in Edinburgh in 1763.

In this short description of the first alteration of attention, Crichton gives several indications that he was depicting the same disorder as defined in the current DSM-IV-TR criteria of ADHD. His characterization of the disorder as “the incapacity of attending with a necessary degree of constancy to any one object” is consistent with the second symptom of criterion A1, Inattention: the “difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities” (American Psychiatric Association 2000). Crichton further describes that “this faculty is incessantly withdrawn from one impression to another”, which fits with a second DSM-IV-TR symptom of inattention, namely the circumstance that the patient “is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli” (American Psychiatric Association 2000). The American Psychiatric Association (2000) furthermore determines that for the diagnosis of ADHD, the symptoms have to be present before the age of seven. Crichton also reports that the disorder can be “born with a person” and “when born with a person it becomes evident at a very early period of life” (Crichton 1798). The proximate conclusion that “it renders him incapable of attending with constancy to any one object of education” (Crichton 1798) suggests that Crichton observed school difficulties in these children, which are commonly seen in children with ADHD. Crichton states that the disorder “generally diminished with age” (Crichton 1798). The notion that ADHD is a disorder of childhood and affected children “grow out” of ADHD during puberty (Okie 2006) was common until the 1990s (Barkley 2006a). Recent studies have shown that about 50% of children diagnosed with ADHD retain symptoms of ADHD into adulthood (Okie 2006; Arolt 2008).

Ref: Lange KW, Reichl S, Lange KM, Tucha L, Tucha O. The history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Atten Defic Hyperact Disord. 2010 Dec;2(4):241-55. doi: 10.1007/s12402-010-0045-8. Epub 2010 Nov 30. PMID: 21258430; PMCID: PMC3000907.

  • TBH it would be helpful if you cited more of that paper. The authors conclude that Crichton didn't describe exactly the same thing as the modern conception. Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 11:06
  • @Fizz Satisfied?
    – pinegulf
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 11:09
  • Fyi: Archive.is is an easy way to bypass the paywall. I do not know what the policy is is for direct links so I won't paste it here.
    – pinegulf
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 11:18
  • I was thinking more of the latter part that you didn't quote "All symptoms observed by Crichton can be associated with ADHD. However, his descriptions do not entirely reflect the current concept of ADHD. He does not mention any symptoms of hyperactivity (Palmer and Finger 2001)." So funnily enough Crichton focused on something else entirely than Eisenberg (or DSM-II to be more certain). (Also, there's no paywall on PMC-hosted texts, so I'm not sure what you're talking about in your FYI here.) Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 11:36
  • @Fizz True, yet even later it says "However, Crichton’s descriptions provide some evidence for the existence of ADHD at the end of the eighteenth century." Even if it does not fulfil modern diagnostic criteria, it is the documented description way before Eisenberg.
    – pinegulf
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 11:44

As not everyone is willing to dive into the details of this, even by his own account, Eisenberg "had to argue vigorously for the inclusion of hyperkinesis as a syndrome" in ICD and/or DSM-II. Furthermore, ADHD was later expanded in DSM-III to include a subtype without hyperactivity that Eisenberg doesn't seem to claim a role in.

For the latter subtype, according to Lange et al. Crichton may have described a case in the 18th century.

By citing these examples of his patients’ behaviors, Crichton depicts a great distractibility by extraneous and even slight stimuli, a considerable restlessness and perhaps some kind of impulsivity when the disorder “excites such a degree of anger as borders on insanity” (Crichton 1798, reprint p. 203). All symptoms observed by Crichton can be associated with ADHD. However, his descriptions do not entirely reflect the current concept of ADHD. He does not mention any symptoms of hyperactivity (Palmer and Finger 2001).

If we want to be more demanding with respect to the "hyperkinetic" angle that Eisenberg argued for, the early 1930s provide

the descriptions of Kramer and Pollnow “on a hyperkinetic disease of infancy” [that] meet all three main symptoms of ADHD and two additional DSM-IV-TR criteria. In particular, their description of motor symptoms is highly consistent with the current classification systems (Rothenberger and Neumärker 2005). The introductory remark of Kramer and Pollnow that the pathological manifestation of the disorder had been known previously, but had not been recognized as a distinct disorder which had to be differentiated from other disorders with similar symptoms, is consistent with the historical literature. In summary, Kramer and Pollnow established a concept of the hyperkinetic disease that closely resembles the current concept of ADHD.

So, Eisenberg can't be considered the inventor or "scientific father" of ADHD in this sense.

For the claims of having brought the syndrome into the mainstream psychiatric nosology/manuals, I'll let someone else answer, as it's been impossible for me find a non-autobiographical account of that.

I was able to find this para in the intro to the DSM-II however (page xii)

The Subcommittee on Classification of Mental Disorders, appointed by the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics, comprised Dr. Benjamin Pasamanick, Chairman, Dr. Moses M. Frohlich (then chairman of the APA Committee on Nomenclature and Statistics), Dr. Joseph Zubin, and the author [Morton Kramer]. Later, Dr. Henry Brill was made Chairman of the APA Committee and replaced Dr. Frohlich on the Subcommittee. Dr. Leon Eisenberg, a child psychiatrist, was also added to the Subcommittee.

The DSM-II decidedly was a rather small affair in terms of committee[s] size, so Eisenberg, being seemingly singled out as the only "child psychiatrist" therein, seem to somewhat substantiate his own account.

And the size of the committees wasn't the only thing small in DSM-II. The whole thing is only like 130 pages long. One article even claims that

the disorder was referred to as Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood and described in one sentence.

Which is a slight misstatement, there are in fact two, although the latter one adds a criterion for exclusion (common to how may other diagnoses were defined in DSM-II though):

308.0* Hyperkinetic reaction of childhood (or adolescence)*

This disorder is characterized by overactivity, restlessness, distractibility, and short attention span, especially in young children; the behavior usually diminishes in adolescence. If this behavior is caused by organic brain damage, it should be diagnosed under the appropriate non-psychotic organic brain syndrome (q.v.).

In deference to Eisenberg's prior work though, he did publish for instance a 1966 review paper of sorts of his [hospital] group's unmitigated success [according to the paper] in treating "hyperkinetics" with stimulants. As discussed by Lange et al. however, medication with stimulants of such patients had been done [much] earlier by Bradley (1937). Lange et al. also say that despite being published in premier journals of the time, Bradley's findings "had almost no influence on research and practice for at least 25 years". Which more or less coincides with the time interval until one of Eisenberg's studies he self-cites in that 1966 paper slightly earlier to 1963. So, Eisenberg can probably also be credited [though surely not alone] with rediscovering or reintroducing treatment with stimulants to the mainstream, where it still is today.

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