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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?

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 ADHD 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 defuse 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 ADHD 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.”

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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 mood disorders, substance abuse, 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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6 Comments & Reviews

  1. @Mostafa I believe you’re thinking of sympathy, where you pity someone. But empathy means that people understand where we’re coming from, what reality we actually face and how they might feel in our circumstance. This wouldn’t cause me to be offended, because it can lead to people genuinely asking what they can do help, as opposed to brushing it off as nothing or laughing about it.

  2. If I hear wisecracks about ADD I just stay silent because I do not want to reveal that I have this disease. Get real, folks, and don’t be stupid. Mental illness will never overcome its stigma as long as there are wackos with assault rifles. Your boss is the LAST person you would want to admit any mental health problem.
    I had an HR manager tell me that he can get rid of or refuse to hire anyone with a mental illness problem and make it all sound legit. Get help for it but keep it a secret.

  3. Mostafa, people should empathize with those with ADHD because, (and sorry to offend you here), but we ARE handicapped, and there should be nothing wrong with admitting that. If you disagree, then you probably do not have ADHD.

  4. Although I agree that when neurotypical people generalize the symptoms of ADHD (along with a slew of other mental disorders such as OCD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and to a lesser extent depression) it can be very annoying, I disagree with the idea that ADHD should not be the punchline of any joke. Many of my friends have ADHD, as do I, and we often make self-deprecating jokes centered around our ADHD and it’s various aspects. I think that this is a much more healthy way to approach any hardship in life.

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