Dr Keith Conners, founding father of ADHD diagnosis dies at 84

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Dr ConnorsDr Keith Connors, whose work with hyperactive children established the first standards for diagnosing and treating what is now known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder(ADHD) died on July 5 in Durham, North Carolina, aged 84.

He had collaborated with others in the early 1960s, when what we now call ADHD began to take clearer shape, and probably knew more about what the disorder is, and is not, than anyone who has ever lived.

The field of child psychiatry was still young when Dr Conners joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the early 1960s as a clinical psychologist.

Children with emotional and behavioral problems often got a variety of diagnoses, and were often given strong tranquilizers as treatment. Working with Dr Leon Eisenberg, a prominent child psychiatrist, Conners focused on a group of youngsters who were chronically restless, hyperactive and sometimes aggressive.

He devised the 39-item questionnaire called the Conners Rating Scale. It quickly became the worldwide standard for assessing the severity of such problems and measuring improvement.

He studied the effects of stimulant drugs on hyperactive children. Doctors had known since the 1930s that amphetamines could, paradoxically, calm such youngsters. It was a series of rigorous studies by Conners, in the 1960s and '70s, that established stimulants – namely Dexedrine and Ritalin – as the standard treatments.

Through the 1990s, Conners was a force in ADHD research. He played a leading role in a long-term government-financed trial – it began recruiting patients in 1994, published its first main finding in 1999 and ran until 2014 – that compared drug treatment with behavioral therapy, a system of incremental rewards that teaches self-control and has also proved effective.

Two years into a subsequent study, the gains on medication had vanished, and Conners wrote in 2001 that combined behaviour-drug treatment was probably the best approach.

Source: New York Times & Sydney Morning Herald - Obituaries