Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder as the Medicalization of Childhood: Challenges from and for Sociology



Sociology has problematized the expanding province of medicine for several decades, and it is important to clarify some of the central questions regarding the medicalization question for those new to this subset of the discipline. With a primary focus on the diagnosis of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), this paper seeks to accomplish four goals. First, this paper will summarize the general concept of medicalization, including the way that medical practitioners attribute children’s behavioral problems to disease entities. Second, this paper argues that the medicalization of childhood and the rise of the disease entity of ADHD stems from the transformation of children and childhood into objects of scientific study. Third, using the example of ADHD, this paper will attempt to demystify the premise that medicalization emanates from the “monolith” of medicine, but is instead, a process rife with internal contradiction and epistemological disagreement. Fourth, following the uncertainty of etiological positions toward childhood behavior problems, this paper will discuss some of the external critiques of medicalization, including the way that lay actors push back against the medicalization process, and concerns about the effectiveness of technologies used to diagnose and treat ADHD.