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7 Seemingly ‘Harmless’ Comments About ADHD, and How to Respond to Them

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Since being diagnosed with ADHD, I’ve faced a number of comments that may not have seemed harmful on the surface, but they actually stung a bit, or hurt my feelings. Sometimes people may not have bad intentions or try to make hurtful comments, but the impact is what really matters. As the person on the receiving end, it can also be exhausting or difficult to think of what to say in that moment, so I made a little script or cheat sheet of how I can respond. 

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1. “Omg I know, I’m so ADHD sometimes!” 

Why it’s harmful: It’s common for people to diminish the severity of ADHD, and not take it seriously. This harms people with ADHD because it can prevent them from getting treatment, accommodations, or support to function in a neurotypical world. When neurotypical people compare their experiences of low focus or distraction, it can take away from the legitimacy of someone’s experience with ADHD.

How to respond: “I get we all feel distracted and unfocused sometimes, but ADHD is a bit different and is a lot more than feeling a bit spaced out or all over the place. It’s a very serious condition for me, and goes beyond what most people experience.”

2. “You’re so lucky you get to be on stimulants! Can I have some for my test?” 

Why it’s harmful: ADHD medication can be difficult to access even with a prescription because of recreational misuse. Students often take stimulants without a subscription to focus, which leads to many people with legitimate prescriptions being scrutinized. 

How to respond: “I’m lucky in the sense that there is a viable treatment option, but I wouldn’t say I’m lucky in the sense that you mean. My medication isn’t intended for recreational use, and the effects for me aren’t ‘fun’ — they just enable me to function a bit better. I’m also not comfortable sharing my medication, I need to take it as prescribed, and it’s not easy to get extra.” 

3. “Have you tried [unsolicited treatment recommendation]?”

Why it’s harmful: ADHD is tough to manage, and it’s easy to feel like a failure when certain treatments don’t work. I don’t like receiving unsolicited advice because it makes me feel like the other person doesn’t think I know how to take care of my health. Not all treatments work for everyone, and it can be frustrating to hear different things I should try when I’m having a hard time managing. People with ADHD know themselves best, and if we are looking for advice, we will ask for it.

How to respond: “Thanks for your suggestion. I understand it comes from a place of caring, but in the future, I would appreciate it if you asked me if I was looking for advice. Sometimes I just want to share and feel like I’m not doing enough, so giving suggestions when I don’t ask for them can feel overwhelming.” 

4. “Did you forget your medication today?”

Why it’s harmful: I really hate this question because it comes off as insensitive and insinuates that I can’t manage my medication. It also makes me feel self-conscious about my behavior if the other person makes this comment. I forget things a lot with ADHD, including my medication, but if I need help remembering, I will ask for it. 

How to respond: “Thank you for your concern, but I prefer to manage my medication myself, and I would appreciate it if you didn’t ask me these kinds of questions. Memory can be a sensitive thing for people with ADHD, and while I understand it may not have been your intention, it doesn’t make me feel good to be asked.”

5. Any “joke” about having ADHD.

Why it’s harmful: It’s never OK to make a joke about someone else’s condition, or something that you don’t have direct experience with. Many negative stereotypes about ADHD are perpetuated by seemingly harmless jokes that, over time, can normalize more serious and hurtful comments. 

How to respond: “I know you’re meaning to be funny, but it’s not OK when you make jokes about my condition. I understand it wasn’t your intention to offend me and I make jokes about myself and ADHD sometimes; however, I don’t appreciate it when you’re making jokes at my expense.” 

6. “Try looking on the bright side or seeing the positive!” 

Why it’s harmful: Toxic positivity can be harmful, and hearing these types of comments can make a person feel like their true feelings or negative thoughts are not welcome. I feel alone when I don’t feel like I can share the hard things I’m going through, and sometimes we just need to be supported and heard without having to jump to positivity. 

How to respond: “I’m grateful for the good I have in my life, but sometimes I just need some space to vent about things. I know it’s important to keep perspective; however, sometimes I’d like for it to be OK for me to talk about how hard it is.”

7. “I wish I got accommodations like you!”

Why it’s harmful: There’s a misconception that accommodations for ADHD or other conditions are some sort of special advantage or treatment, but that’s not the case. Accommodations just change circumstances for people like me so we don’t have to unnecessarily face extra struggles. It can also be quite challenging to get the right accommodations, or prove your eligibility, so making light of something serious can be harmful.

How to respond: “My accommodations don’t make school or work easier for me than it is for you – they simply level the playing field so that we have an equal chance of success. It’s not something special that gives me an unfair advantage.”

If you’ve made these comments before — that’s OK. We all make mistakes and can learn from them, and these are some of the comments that I find the most seemingly harmless, but can actually do some damage. Another person’s list might be different, or they might like some of these comments, like being reminded to take their medication, and that’s OK, too. You don’t have to tiptoe around someone with ADHD, but it’s never a bad idea to check in and ask what types of comments they would find helpful or supportive, and what comments hurt them the most. At the end of the day, it’s nice to feel cared about and to feel validated and reassured that I’m doing an alright job with my ADHD. 

What ‘harmless’ comments are you sick of hearing about your illness or disability? Let us know in the comments below.

Getty Images photo via Catherine Falls Commercial

Originally published: April 7, 2022
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