The first reference to ADHD in a medical journal may have been in 1902.
The term “dyslexia” wasn’t commonly used in the U.S. until the 1930s.
Awareness and research of learning disabilities and ADHD took off in the 21st century.
ADHD always called “ADHD”? How have
special education law and special education research advanced over the years? Explore the history of learning disabilities and ADHD with this timeline. And find out when some famous people went public and started speaking out.
1800s to mid-1900s
Trends: Learning disabilities and ADHD aren’t on the public radar. But they are discussed by scientists and doctors.
German neurologist Adolf Kussmaul coins the term “word blindness.” He defines it as “a complete text blindness … although the power of sight, the intellect, and the powers of speech are intact.”
German physician Rudolf Berlin uses the term “dyslexia” to help define reading challenges.
The British medical journal Lancet publishes the poem “The Story of Fidgety Philip.” It may be the first reference to ADHD in a medical journal. Philip “… won’t sit still, He wriggles, And giggles, And then, I declare, Swings backwards and forwards, And tilts up his chair.”
W.E. Bruner publishes the first report of childhood reading difficulties in the U.S. The term “
dyslexia” wasn’t commonly used in the U.S. until the 1930s.
The FDA approves the drug
Ritalin for treatment of depression and fatigue, but not for ADHD. (ADHD won’t be recognized by the medical community for another 13 years.)
1960s and 1970s
Trends: Doctors and educators in the U.S. recognize learning disabilities and what will later be called ADHD. Public schools and the federal government start to act. But most kids with these challenges are taught in separate classrooms, away from their peers.
Inclusion classrooms are not yet common.
Ritalin is first used to treat “hyperkinetic” symptoms in kids.
In Chicago, psychologist Samuel A. Kirk becomes the first to use the term “learning disability” at an education conference.
Association for Children with Learning Disabilities (ACLD) is created. Now known as the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), it has chapters in every state.
What is now called ADHD first appears in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the manual used to diagnose conditions. It’s called “hyperkinetic impulse disorder.”
Congress passes the first federal law that requires support services for kids with learning disabilities.
Congress passes the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA). Public schools are required to provide “free, appropriate public education” for all students.
Pete and Carrie Rozelle found the National Center for Learning Disabilities. (It was known then as the Foundation for Children with Learning Disabilities.) As parents of a child with learning disabilities, the Rozelles strive to help other families.
1980s and 1990s
Trends: The education and medical communities strive to understand learning disabilities and ADHD—and how to help people who have them. ADHD becomes more widely known. There’s controversy over whether kids are being overdiagnosed.
“Hyperkinetic impulse disorder” is renamed attention-deficit disorder (ADD). ADD was defined as a problem of inattention that could also come with hyperactivity.
Singer and actress
Cher talks about having dyslexia and what she calls “math dyslexia.” A decade later, she writes in her autobiography about having
state dyslexia law is passed in Texas. Local school districts must screen students for dyslexia and put
instructional interventions in place for kids who show signs of dyslexia. Over the next two decades, dozens of other states also pass dyslexia laws.
ADD is renamed attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in a revision to the DSM.
Congress passes the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It bans discrimination against people with disabilities in public spaces and the workplace.
The National Institute of Mental Health team identifies regions of the brain that work differently in people who have dyslexia. LD Online launches as the first internet resource for parents and teachers.
Big changes to IDEA: Some students with ADHD can now qualify for special education under the “Other Health Impairment” category. General education teachers become part of the special education process. Students get more access to regular education and take statewide tests.
2000 to Present Day
Trends: Awareness and research of learning disabilities and ADHD issues take off. Federal law more clearly defines special education services and gives parents more rights. Researchers start using brain imaging to study these challenges.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is renamed No Child Left Behind Act. It holds states and schools more accountable for student progress.
Researchers at Yale University use fMRI technology to show that the brains of kids with dyslexia work differently than those of their peers when reading.
Actor Henry (“The Fonz”) Winkler introduces the book character Hank Zipzer, a mischievous hero with dyslexia. Winkler, who has dyslexia, wanted to give kids a hero with whom they could identify.
IDEA is updated. It gives parents more rights and better defines schools’ responsibilities.
Response to intervention (RTI) is used to try to help struggling students.
Yale University team identifies a gene associated with dyslexia.
The Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education releases a “Dear Colleague” letter. It says that denying kids with disabilities access to accelerated academic programs is a civil rights violation.
Researchers at University College London use brain imaging to identify the area of the brain that works differently in people with dyscalculia.
A GfK Roper survey finds that 80 percent of Americans agree that “children with learning disabilities are just as smart as you and me.”
Researchers at the M.I.N.D. Institute identify differences in electrical patterns in the brains of kids with ADHD. This shows a biological reason for trouble with attention.
DSM-5 broadens its definition of the term “specific learning disorder.”
The U.S. Department of Labor passes federal regulations requiring contractors and subcontractors to set a goal that 7 percent of their workforce be people with disabilities.
Understood.org launches. The initiative provides families of kids who learn and think differently with hands-on, personalized, and actionable information to understand and meet their needs. It later expands to serve educators, employers, and young adults.
No Child Left Behind is repealed. In its place, Congress enacts the Every Student Succeeds Act. The new law gives each state the power to set its own goals for student achievement within a flexible federal framework.
The U.S. Supreme Court decides the
landmark case Endrew F. The Court says schools must provide special education services “reasonably calculated” to help kids make progress in school.