Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in France and Ireland: parents’ groups’ scientific and political framing of an unsettled condition

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is an unsettled condition whose history is characterised by controversy amongst medical professionals. Its emergence has frequently been interpreted as an example of the growing ‘medicalisation’ of society and the individualisation of social issues. This paper examines how groups representing children with ADHD in France and Ireland engage within this contested medical domain, and challenges the frequently made association between the process of ‘medicalisation’ and ‘de-politicisation’. We argue that through the weighing up of different bodies of knowledge, parents’ groups redefine issues of significance requiring action at both an individual and a collective level.

Parents’ organisations have developed different politics of knowledge around ADHD, which become visible in their ‘epistemic efforts’. In Ireland, organisations remain committed to a biomedical approach to ADHD, although their practical efforts are oriented towards complementing medication with non-pharmaceutical treatments. In France, the key parents’ group opposes any paradigm that focuses exclusively on one aspect of the disorder: social, psychological or neurological. It struggles to ‘open up’ the scientific domain of ADHD. We demonstrate how these contrasting engagements with knowledge lead parents’ organisations to politicise and act on the area of ADHD in different ways within their respective countries.