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Dissertation: 3 June 2016: Voices behind and beyond the label: the master narrative of ADHD (de)constructed by diagnosed children and their parents (Honkasilta)


3.6.2016 12:00 — 15:00

Location: Seminaarinmaki, Seminaarinmäki, Vanha juhlasali, S212
3 June 2016 M.A. Juho Honkasilta (Faculty of Education, Special Education)

Juho HonkasiltaM.A. Juho Honkasilta defends his doctoral dissertation in Special Education  ”Voices behind and beyond the label: the master narrative of ADHD (de)constructed by diagnosed children and their parents”. Opponent Professor Eva Hjörne (University of Göteborg, Sweden) and custos Docent Tanja Vehkakoski (University of Jyväskylä). The dissertation will be conducted in English.

The dominant understanding of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is that of diagnosed children “suffering” from neurodevelopmental condition owing to which they are prone to develop adverse life trajectories. This master narrative of ADHD and psychomedical and normative discourses it adheres to and employs have been integrated into the daily activities of homes and schools. This compilation dissertation study employs a social constructionist discourse framework and is located in the intersection of the disciplines of disability studies and special education. The aim of the dissertation is to further our understanding of “life with ADHD” from the viewpoint of the families in Finland who supposedly live the master narrative. By conducting interviews for 13 young Finnish teens (aged 11–16 years) diagnosed with ADHD and 18 Finnish mothers of diagnosed children, it analyzes the meanings given to and built around ADHD in the context of the compulsory schooling. The data are analyzed using both discourse and narrative analysis methods.

The study finds that the mothers and youth positioned themselves differently in relation to ADHD. For mothers, the voice behind the label, their strong endeavor to explain their child’s traits, behavior, and performance by adhering to and advocating psychomedical discourse functioned as a counter-means to school practices. For them, the ADHD label entailed a cultural promise of recognition of their child and themselves: it was expected to promote the match between the child and school and translate as a mediator between parents and teachers. Children, the voice beyond the label, on the other hand, constructed the label as a priori stigmatizing and thus, adherence to psychomedical discourse as potentially impeding the process of identity building. Instead, they constructed themselves in relation to ADHD, and vice versa, in the vortex of discourses internalized by them providing deeply embedded varying and contradictive cultural meanings.

The results problematize the master narrative as unproductive. Further, the uncritical reproduction of psychomedical discourse in educational practices is questioned, as it is oversimplified and insufficient to understand the experiences of “life with ADHD”. As regards school practices, this study provides theoretical implications for inclusive education. It suggests a change in discourses employed in everyday school practices and the conceptualization of educational special need in order to truly live up to the values of inclusive education.

Keywords: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Mothers, Parents, Children, Young People, Teens, Discourse Analysis, Narrative Analysis, Interview, Social Constructionism, Inclusive Education



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Juho Honkasilta