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Help write an email to a Sociology tutor who says ADHD is medicalising the problem of naughty children.

(65 Posts)
GhostofMammaTJ Fri 05-Oct-12 18:12:22

My friend has just started uni. She has a son with ADHD. She went through many years of hardship with him before diagnosis. He is on ritalin and has greatly improved.

She sat in a sociology lecture where the lecturer was talking about over medicalising problems. The lecturer said that obesity is over medicalised, fair enough in some cases, getting operations and tablets for something that can be controlled by diet and excercise.

They then went on to talk about ADHD. ADHD is medicalisation of naughty children, just sticking a medical label on them so the parents don't have to blame themselves.

One of her cohort then said 'Maybe their behaviour is due to tablets and things taken during pregnancy' (not meaning recreational, but prescribed). The tutor then shrugged as if to say 'Well maybe'.

My friend sat there trying to control her anger and tears and would like to correct the tutor in the best and calmest way possible, via email. She has asked for my help and I in turn am asking for yours.


KeepOnKeepingOn1 Mon 08-Oct-12 11:12:56

little the lecturer was not expressing a viewpoint but was teaching the required sociology texts and referring to research previously carried out. Sociology 101 is a whistle-stop tour through all things sociological and the material taught cannot be selected according to the individual viewpoints of the tutors. Logistically the lecture will be to the whole year whilst tutorial groups will contain a fraction of the students. There are multiple tutors.

The lecturer was not spoonfeeding supposed facts and unfortunately the statements that were made can be backed up by sociological research - see above (whether or not it is an adequate theory is a matter of academic debate). Sociologists, like other academics, do not base their 'viewpoint' on news articles but on research published in peer-reviewed journals. In any case they would not been seen dead reading the Daily Mail or quoting BBC news but are Guardian readers grin

Tiggles Mon 08-Oct-12 09:46:24

I haven't got time to read the whole thread, so this may have been said, but maybe he was basing his viewpoint slightly on this which says 15% of under 15s in the Wirral are given Ritalin, presumably as not all children with ADHD are prescribed Ritalin the incidence of ADHD is higher again. Is something that occurs that often actually normal behaviour? He is a lecturer he should be able to back up his statements, isn't sociology meant to make you think things through, certainly not spoonfeeding a load of facts? As a student your friend needs to find journal articles backing up both his viewpoint and hers and then say why her's is right grin

KeepOnKeepingOn1 Mon 08-Oct-12 09:18:22

There is an interesting chapter in Gillian Bendelow's Health, Emotion and the Body published in 2009 - chapter 3 - Medically Unexplained Symptoms and 'Contested Conditions'.

There is controversy around ADHD and other conditions and I believe it is misleading to argue that social constructionism is merely arguing that such things can only be understood within the social realm. Social constructionism does not argue that there is an independently existing biological reality that has causal effects in the social realm. See for example the writings of Timimi and Breggin. According to Timimi with regard to ADHD the claims of scientific evidence for the existence of a biological brain disorder are highly questionable and so argues that ADHD is best understood as a cultural intervention rather than a medical condition. For over a decade social constructionist perspectives have argued that ADHD is psuedomedical and is not a biological conditon - like 'hysteria' which used to be a popular diagnosis (for women only as it means wandering womb) but it is longer a valid diagnosis.

The core symptoms of ADHD (inattention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness) are controversial as they can be argued to be 'normal' aspects of childhood and teenage behaviour. Hence it is argued that there are value judgements in particular social contexts regarding desirable behaviour and ADHD is based on just such a value judgment rather than physiological symptomatology.

From the perspective of Goffman's labelling theory (which is commonly misunderstood and misappropiated by professionals telling parents that it may be damaging to seek diagnosis) it is then argued that children may 'live up' to the label and that both children and parents benefit from this labelling as the stigma of having an unruly child is legitimized by medicalisation.

Neatly wrapped bollocks in my opinion. Tutors will teach this history of ideas regardless of whether or not they agree with it and tbh will not expect 1st year students to have any additional knowledge or personal experience. Also many first years are open and so the discipline trys to appear exciting, relevent and controversial - Marx, Weber, Durkheim don't do it anymore.

cory Mon 08-Oct-12 08:16:46

Yes I understand that, creamteas; my objection is not to a scholarly discussion of social constructs and their implications (though better perhaps in seminar than in the lecture theatre), but to those who claim (not infrequently on MN) that if only society was constructed differently there would be no such thing as disability.

creamteas Sun 07-Oct-12 17:20:50

cory the idea of illness as a social construct within sociology (eg can only be understood within society) does not mean that it denies pain nor supports or rejects medication.

What it can do is explain why and how some pains are taken more seriously than others and who gets access or is denied medication and on what basis.

Unfortunately most people see the words and take a literal meaning rather than the conceptual one that it is meant to describe.

cory Sun 07-Oct-12 15:39:04

The idea of disability/illness as a social construct often pops up on Mumsnet. I always end up asking how exactly we could construct a society where people don't mind being in pain.

As for medication being doled out like sweets, I think it is a very bad idea to make assumptions based on a totally different culture like the US. Having spent years trying to get a non-functioning dd on medication, I'd like to think that the final decision of her medical team was guided by actual medical considerations, not by the need to prove that they are not like something they were never like in the first place.

GhostofMammaTJ Sun 07-Oct-12 13:33:15

She will probably be able to get it throught the library, I would have thought. Thanks again all. Still more helpful comments keep coming.

KeepOnKeepingOn1 Sun 07-Oct-12 13:16:36

ghost Your friend might find the work of Peter Conrad is significant in this respect. eg The Social Construction of Illness : Key Insights and Policy Implications published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in 2010. This article is a general overview and places current writings in historical and sociological context. He has also written specifically on ADHD as has others. Should be able to get free full text access. PM if you can't.

justaboutiswarm Sun 07-Oct-12 10:45:34

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Sneezecakesmama Sun 07-Oct-12 10:23:57

Still think the OPs friend should approach the lecturer and ask him to clarify his comments. After all the comment of one of the other students

[One of her cohort then said 'Maybe their behaviour is due to tablets and things taken during pregnancy' (not meaning recreational, but prescribed). The tutor then shrugged as if to say 'Well maybe'. ]

Would indicate his words were not taken in a sociological context (as the assumptions are saying) but possibly by other students in a literal and possibly condemnatory way. If a teacher is offering food for thought he should at least indicate this to his students.

porridgelover Sun 07-Oct-12 08:43:44

creamteas I found that very helpful, thank you.
I havent read back the whole thread and my initial reaction was to get on my high horse. But actually, in this context I am probably wrong.

Sneezecakesmama Sat 06-Oct-12 22:27:10

Very enlightening creamT. smile

I was skimming the fist 40 pages of the thesis when I lost the will to live! But the gist at that early point was that if we lived on a primitive island where the inhabitants valued energetic, innovative and lateral thinkers instead of sitting learning from books in a limited rigid society, DS would have been valued and happy....I like that scenario very much. grin. I've never regarded DS as mentally ill or disabled thankfully so maybe I'm glad after all that they didn't offer Ritalin....I think? No wonder its so divisive.

In the thesis a 7 year old boys parents were prosecuted for not giving their child Ritalin saying it was child neglect (in the US) that is really shocking.

coff33pot Sat 06-Oct-12 22:23:34

creamteas thanks smile You have just explained a lot to me not that I want to go to Uni grin

But I actually get the whole sociology system now smile

GhostofMammaTJ Sat 06-Oct-12 20:17:38

Thank you creamteas, very helpful.

My friend has been lurking and thanks you all for your contributions. She has formed a plan of action that no longer means an email.

creamteas Sat 06-Oct-12 19:53:12

Oh and if anyone want to read a really good sociological explanation of ADHD try reading this (be warned, it is a long document)

creamteas Sat 06-Oct-12 19:29:02

I teach medical sociology, and there is a lot of misunderstanding about the concepts of social construction and medicalisation.

The argument that illnesses are social constructions in most sociological theory is that illness can only understood socially. This does not mean that they have no biological basis, but that it is the social context through which we understand them.

For example, my DC are ASD. If society didn't expect everyone to act in a certain way in relation to behaviours around communication and interaction then ASD would be unlikely to exist as diagnostic category as they would not be seen as different. This is not denying that the condition is a bodily fact. The brain difference would be the same in societies that accepted them as 'normal' or see them as different. But as society does not tolerate the difference, their behaviour stands out and needs a 'label' to explain it.

Another way of explaining it is to think about other forms of body difference.
We don't divide people on the basis of the shape of their ear lobes, but we do use skin colour. Both are actual bodily differences, but the fact that one is significant and one isn't shows us that these type of divides are social constructions.

Medicalisation refers to the way that certain conditions come under the remit of medicine. It is a concept about professional power. This means the medical profession gets to decide both what behaviour is within a diagnostic category and who fits them (and don't we all know it grin). Categories of difference move in and out of the control of medicine (for example being gay was a crime, then an illness now it is not either).

So the argument that ADHD is a medicalised social construction does not necessarily mean that there is no underlining biological basis. What it means is first, society deems their behaviour as outside of the range of normal and second that medicine claimed power to name and control the behaviour.

ArthurPewty Sat 06-Oct-12 18:43:40

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

KeepOnKeepingOn1 Sat 06-Oct-12 14:05:31

leonie sorry - didn't mean to ignore you. What you draw attention to is quite correct - the consequences of the non-medicalisation (and hence non treatment) of so-called behavioural problems leading to self-treatment and individual, familial and social costs.

Sneeze - this is not my area and so I do not have up-to-date references and I wish it was so simple that there was a single link to this - it would certainly make research a lot easier! As a start, I would do a google scholar search on the 'medicalisation of ADHD', choose and read one recent article for and one article against and use the references to find further papers. If you cannot access the full journal article but only the abstract (without paying an extortinate amount) PM your email address. Current research is influenced by 'old' research on the sociology of deviance (for example, the illegality/legality of homosexuality) and the history of psychiatry and the progression of the social identification of those who are 'ill' (and in need of treatment) rather than morally lacking (and in need of incarceration and/or punishment). Rightly or wrongly, focus remains at the level of the social and there is no sociological interest in attempting to attach blame to parents or children.

I think you are right - it should have been made clear that the views expressed were not necessarily those of the tutor. Depends on the institution - it is possible that the tutors also conduct original research but it is very unlikely that the tutor was referring to their own research. Universities are places of debate and disagreement and as such 'facts' have no place there - which is why it sometimes comes as a shock to mature students but also why tutors do not imagine that students believe they are teaching facts to a passive audience.

coff33pot Sat 06-Oct-12 13:24:00

leonie sad that is really shocking.

Sneezecakesmama Sat 06-Oct-12 12:51:50

Link please Keep. To the body of research that says ADHD doesn't exist but is a combination of bad parenting and naughty children? Preferably something up to date.

I disagree with your statements as to what the lecturer was expressing. If there is no right or wrong in academia (which I agree with) then the person in question should not state his views as fact but should offer both sides of the argument, which he did NOT do.

If the lecturer is then expressing a 'fact' he should qualify it with research. It appeared to be tacked on opinion.

Am I saying all children treated as ADHD are correctly diagnosed? No, I am sure some are not, but equally some are. Unlike the lecturer I am open to the fact that there are two schools of thought and am prepared to concede this. Something I feel the OPs friend should point out in her email. It's about balance!

GhostofMammaTJ Sat 06-Oct-12 12:35:28

Leonie that is a shocking tale. Here children rarely get diagnosed under 7 years old.

KeepOnKeepingOn1 Sat 06-Oct-12 12:28:33

The tutor is not 'wrong' or expressing an opinion but is referring to a well established body of sociological research and writings. There is other research from within sociology that counters these views. Sociologists do not need to become medical doctors or psychologists to challenge this viewpoint. In fact doctors and psychologists lack the philosophical and sociological knowledge of all that lies behind social constructionism and so are not in a position to challenge it theoretically. There is no such thing as being 'right' in academia - there is always vehement disagreement within and between disciplines and so it is not as simple as correcting the tutor. See for example the work on embodiment and a realist perspective (Like Simon Williams - Is there any body there?).

It can be difficult to read abstract research on areas of our own lives with which we have intimate experiential knowledge. This is one of the reasons that some researchers prefer to have personal experience of the issues they research whilst others go to methodological lengths to give a voice to 'lay-knowledge' ie the voice of parents.

Sneezecakesmama Sat 06-Oct-12 12:01:35

Keepon. If the teacher is not wrong and not expressing an opinion then does that mean they were right confused Does that mean a teacher is teaching that ADHD is down to poor parenting and doesn't exist but the children are just naughty? Sorry it flies in the face of research and REAL experts. A sociologist is not an expert in paediatric psychology!

ArthurPewty Sat 06-Oct-12 11:11:25

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ArthurPewty Sat 06-Oct-12 11:10:06

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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