Our Life Is Not a Punch Line

You’ve seen the ADHD memes and found yourself the only one not laughing. I still struggle to react appropriately when ADHD jokes rear their ugly heads. How do you respond?
Be Our Guest | posted by Kelly Emanuel, MPH
Myths About ADHD are Not a Laughing Matter

Both of my kids have ADHD — not to mention apraxia, sensory processing issues, and other various challenges. Through helping them, I have also discovered my own mild case of ADHD. We are a complex, hard-working family.

As you might imagine, I don’t find it charming or funny when a neurotypical person, during a brief bout of forgetfulness or distractibility, says, "I'm so ADD right now" or "Sorry, it's just my ADHD kicking in (laugh)." Who knows — maybe some of these people have undiagnosed ADHD, and they are trying to use humor to diffuse or lighten up a certain situation. Most of the time, though, ADHD is a punch line. I know because I used to joke about it, even after my kids were diagnosed.

And then one day after I cracked an ADD joke, I thought, “What’s so funny about this?” I even took an informal survey of some moms who have kids with ADHD. I was surprised by the split opinions; I was even more surprised by the intense emotions on each side. It was either, “People need to lighten up. It’s no big deal” OR it was “This is not even remotely funny.”

On the one hand, I think more people need to understand and empathize with the struggles associated with ADHD. Education is the best way to erase the ADHD stigma. If a lighthearted joke can help people see that ADHD impacts others just like them, then I don’t see the harm. Humor can, in some circumstances, drive home the point that ADHD is not different or weird; it just is.

But on the other hand, a lighthearted joke may give the false impression that ADHD is not a big deal — not the complex, debilitating, very real disorder that it is. “It’s just ADHD.” The hidden subtext is that if I can have ADHD traits and if I can manage to get by, then what’s the problem? Some people may question whether it's a "real" disorder or disability. Some may question whether taking medications and supplements, or trying other approaches (like removing food dyes, refined sugar, and refined carbohydrates) are even necessary. To me, this lack of regard for ADHD is no more blatantly obvious than it is in memes like "The Original ADHD Medicine..." with a picture of a belt.

I can’t blame people for not knowing more about ADHD. I didn’t even know the extent of it until my kids were diagnosed. It was only after researching it that I understood the complexity of the condition. That it is so much more than not being able to pay attention sometimes or getting distracted occasionally. That it’s connected to depression, addiction, low-self esteem, social anxiety, and more. That it’s not within anyone’s control. That there are physiological things at work.

And so I decided to stop joking about it. But how should I react — if at all — when others do? I'm often torn, and context certainly matters. When it comes as a Facebook post, I'll ignore it if I just don't have the energy. Other times I try to find a way to educate others about ADHD — through a semi-sarcastic remark, a serious comment, or a statistic about ADHD. I owe it to my kids (and myself) to let people know the condition is real, treatment is necessary, and it really is no laughing matter.

 
 
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