The Social Construct Theory and ADHD - Exploring the Causes of ADHD

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The social construct theory of ADHD

The proponents of the social construct theory of ADHD believe that this is no disorder and that the behavior in children with ADHD is not at all abnormal. In fact, it can easily be explained with the help of environmental causes or the personality type of the individual. The scientific and medical community considers attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD as a developmental and neurobehavioral disorder which causes impairment in an individual. However, no one has actually been able to explain the causes of ADHD appropriately. Let’s have a look at the relation between the social construct theory and ADHD.

The main proponents

Psychiatrists Peter Breggin and Sami Timimi are two of the main proponents of the social construct theory which attempts to explain the causes of ADHD. They believe that there is no disorder here. Another proponent, Thomas Szasz in fact says that ADHD was ‘invented and not discovered’. Basically, it is a social construct and not a medical diagnosis.

NHS child and adolescent psychiatrist Timimi argues that the symptoms of this so-called disorder are caused due to the stress on families created by western society. Social critics believe that some parents feel that they have failed in their parental responsibilities and in an attempt to get rid of the guilt they use the label of ADHD as an excuse.

Arguments of the Social Construct Theory of ADHD

Social construct theorists accept that the so-called ADHD traits exist in the individual. However, they believe that the boundary between normal and abnormal behavior is subjective and not objective, which means that ADHD is only a ‘construct’ and not an objective entity.

Simply said, the so-called ‘symptoms’ of ADHD lie within the range of normal healthy human behavior and are not at all dysfunctional. For symptoms to be classified as a disorder, they need to be maladaptive, which is not true for ADHD behaviors.

In a society which places emphasis on passivity and order, individuals on the active end of the spectrum are seen as problems. A medical label of ADHD helps in removing the guilt and blame from the people who are actually the cause of the problem.

On the other hand, other societies are more tolerant and consider the child as just an ‘active child’. Similarly, some societies have a more flexible attitude towards the sitting arrangement of children in school. They even allow movement within the class. So, they may not perceive the inability of a child to sit still as an ADHD symptom.

Popularity of the social construct theory

The social construct theory of ADHD has become a rage in the mental health arena since their viewpoint has been able to dispute the findings of most studies conducted to prove the differences between normal people and individuals with ADHD. The social constructionist view is that studies that show major psychological and social differences between normal people and ADHD individuals have not been able to explain the specific reasons for these differences. The neurological differences as pointed out by various studies may also be due to medications prescribed for this ‘disorder’.

A report by the American National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that Ritalin is often abused by individuals who do not have ADHD just to increase their attention. This shows that even studies demonstrating the successful treatment of ADHD are not enough to undermine the arguments of the social construct theory.

No studies have been able to prove that ADHD is indeed a true disorder with behaviors that are clearly dysfunctional and there are a particular group of people across all cultures and societies that clearly fall in that category.

Criticism of the social construct theory of ADHD

The argument in support of the relation between the social construct theory and ADHD is indeed a strong one; however, ADHD varies from one individual to the other in terms of causes and symptoms. So, a single explanation for each individual diagnosed with ADHD may not be the right approach towards understanding this very complex disorder. Also, the diagnosis of all psychiatric disorders is based on the opinion of the diagnostician, so to say that ADHD is not a disorder just because there is no objective characteristic present in individuals with this disorder that does not exist in normal individuals, may be a little too far-fetched.


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