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ADHD and the power of generalization

Exploring the faces of reification
PhD ceremony:dr. S. (Sanne) te Meerman
When:June 20, 2019
Supervisor:prof. dr. H.W.E. (Hans) Grietens
Co-supervisor:prof. dr. L. (Laura) Batstra
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Behavioural and Social Sciences
ADHD and the power of generalization

Don’t make such a thing out of unruly behaviour

When we ‘diagnose’ children based on annoying behaviors we call ‘symptoms’; what does that tell us about our culture? Why do we make such a thing of these behaviors, both in the literal and figurative sense? In the literal sense this is called ‘reification’, and it can result in confusing ‘naming’ with ‘explaining’. When we call these restless behaviours ADHD, we have not explained them.  

Confusing naming and explaining is merely one way to reify. This thesis describes several reifying mechanisms that occur often in academic textbooks. For instance, small average brain differences between those classified with ADHD and ‘normal’ children are presented as if these brain characteristics are unique for those with ADHD. However, research shows that many with ADHD do not have these characteristics, while many without an ADHD classification do. By suggesting otherwise, ADHD is erroneously presented as a disease-entity comparable to a neurological condition.  

The suggestion that ADHD is a disease entity rather than a descriptive classification, makes the child the owner of potentially complex (societal) problems related to restless behaviours and makes stimulants like Ritalin appear as ‘medication’. This is not always in the best interest of the child. The Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges us to safeguard that professionals are properly educated about the pitfalls of reification and classifying labels such as ADHD.