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ADHD, children, postmodern illness, qualitative research



  1. Kendall, Judy RN, PhD
  2. Hatton, Diane RN, DNSc
  3. Beckett, Ann RN, PhD
  4. Leo, Michael MS, PhC


As a postmodern illness, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is embedded in controversy, reflective of the cultural times in which we live. Within this debate, 2 perspectives, ADHD as myth and ADHD as behavioral disorder, are most frequently voiced. This article describes these 2 differing perspectives and reports qualitative data from 39 children and adolescents with a diagnosis of ADHD regarding their perceptions, meanings, and experiences of living with this disorder. None of the participants in this study denied that they had difficulties and many of the difficulties they described corresponded to DSM-IV-R criteria and the scientific literature. Given these discoveries, the continual debate about the authenticity of ADHD only further victimizes families who are in desperate need of services.


POSTMODERN CRITIQUE situates attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a contested diagnosis involving a vague set of behavioral criteria and lacking biological diagnostic certainty. Complicated by ambiguity and a confusing medical picture, ADHD, as a postmodern illness, begs the question of whether medicine has gone amuk and created a disorder to treat teachers' and parents' anxieties regarding childhood by routinely drugging children into good behavior.1 On the other hand, a vast research literature documents the existence of ADHD as a legitimate and serious disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,2 ADHD accounts for the largest number of referrals to child mental health clinics of all psychiatric and behavioral problems of childhood. Yet, public debate rages as to the validity of ADHD as a bonafide psychiatric medical disorder, questioning whether a fraud has been perpetrated on us by the educational, medical, and pharmaceutical community. Consequently, ADHD has become one of the most controversial health conditions of the last 15 years.


Juxtaposed against this on-going debate are the voices of the children and adolescents who are most directly affected. Rarely are children's and adolescent's perspectives heard in regard to ADHD. This article is a report of findings from interviews with 39 children and adolescents with ADHD regarding their perceptions, meanings, and experiences of living with this disorder.