In the U.S. multidisciplinary pediatric pain clinic where I conducted 18 months of fieldwork, a widely held explanatory model tied the neurobiology of intractable pain to certain features of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) such as concrete thinking, an interest in details, and hyper-attentiveness. Clinicians used terms such as “sticky brains” and “sticky neurons” to describe the perseverative thoughts and quirky behavior that characterized a sizable subset of the program’s chronic pain patients who were believed to show signs of PDD, and consequently, did not respond well to treatment. Drawing on observations of clinical consultations, team meetings, and interviews with clinicians and families, I examine the meta-discursive processes by which clinical difficulties were inscribed onto difficult patients. Specifically, I demonstrate how discourse on sticky brains worked to re-classify challenging patients as psychologically abnormal, rationalizing their failed response to standard treatment. I argue that ‘stickiness’ provides an appropriate metaphor not only for a particular neurobiological configuration, but also for challenging clinical encounters. By illuminating the interactional processes through which clinical difficulties are managed, interpreted, and explained, the paper advances anthropological theorizing on the performative work of diagnosis and institutionalized misrecognition.