The Right to Dignity or Disorder? The Case for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Diversity



Different medically based constructions of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have been around since ‘mental restlessness’ in 1798, evolved through the 20th century with ‘minimal brain dysfunction’ and distinctions between Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and ADHD (DSM-III), to current presentations of ADHD (DSM5). As new insights and knowledge have become available, the meaning and labels attached to ADHD have changed, and so they are malleable. This piece will explore two different labels (or frameworks for meaning) for the cluster of behaviours and difficulties associated with the phenomenon known as ADHD; that is, the disorder label and the diversity label. These labels will be explored in terms of accuracy and consequences, particularly their impact on human dignity. Problems inherent in the disorder label will be critically considered, particularly how accurate it is given that psychobiological differences should not be viewed as disorder, may not ‘cause’ functional deficits, and may be understood as strengths. These problems call the disorder label into question, and suggest that ADHD-type behaviours could be understood as traits. This piece will also call into question taken-for-granted social structures that could contribute to or be responsible for the difficulties associated with ADHD, in particular, the stigmatisation of the ADHD label and socio-cultural norms and expectations around ADHD-type behaviours. An alternative diversity label, the neurodiversity framework (or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Diversity) will be explored, in terms of whether it applies to ADHD and the opportunities it offers for empowerment of people and the protection of their fundamental human dignity. In essence, this piece is a socio-political debate about identity; about the labels that can inadvertently harm human dignity and prevent other human rights. It is also about people’s right to choice and autonomy in their identity and ways of being in this world. These are human rights issues, because identity is about one’s inherent worth and dignity, and human dignity is the basis for human rights.

Keywords: ADHD, Labelling, Children’s rights, Human rights, Neurodiversity

How to Cite: Carr-Fanning, K. (2020) “The Right to Dignity or Disorder? The Case for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Diversity”, Studies in Arts and Humanities. 6(1). doi: