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Sensitive Child, Disturbed Kid: Stigma, Medicalization, and the Interpretive Work of Israeli Mothers of Children with ADHD

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Abstract

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a rapidly globalizing medical category, and there is a need to attend to the on the-ground processes through which laypeople deploy the ADHD label in different local contexts. Based on in-depth interviews with Israeli mothers of children with ADHD, this article explores how mothers, as lay actors in the social field of diagnosis, interpreted the origins and meanings of their child’s ‘troubles’. The temporal perspective on mothers’ meaning-making processes revealed a progression of four common phases through which mothers revisited their understanding of ADHD, and recast their own responsibilities and moral roles. We found that mothers’ self-understanding was crucially impacted by the invisibility of the disability and the fact that diagnosis did not fully relieve them from blame for their children’s stigmatizing behavior. While not all mothers accepted the validity of the diagnosis, participating in the medicalization of their child’s condition allowed them to reach similar pragmatic and narrative goals. We discuss the cultural and institutional features of the Israeli ADHD landscape that shape mothers’ narratives of their children, and their relations with expertise. We point to a culturally unique framing of children with ADHD in Israel as those characterized by emotional vulnerability and risk of social exclusion.

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Notes

  1. Interviews were evenly distributed in length, about a third lasting 1-1.5 hours, a third 1.5-2 hours, and a third 2-2.5 hours.

  2. All but one of the mothers in our sample tried medication following diagnosis.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Yam Umansky for her participation in the interviewing process, and the mothers who volunteered to be interviewed. We also thank anonymous reviewers for their careful reading and thoughtful and important comments to this article.

Funding

The research was funded by the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF). Grant Number 1434/20. PI: Galia Plotkin-Amrami.

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Correspondence to Galia Plotkin-Amrami.

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The study was approved by Ben Gurion University Institutional Review Board (IRB).

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Interviewees provided informed consent and were compensated for their participation.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Plotkin-Amrami, G., Fried, T. Sensitive Child, Disturbed Kid: Stigma, Medicalization, and the Interpretive Work of Israeli Mothers of Children with ADHD. Cult Med Psychiatry 48, 198–218 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-023-09831-7

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