Why You Shouldn’t Refer To Yourself As Having ADHD or Dyslexia… Unless, Of Course, You Do

Oh! Something shiny!

Ever go to jot down a phone number, only to switch a couple digits around? Or maybe you are writing a word and the letters come out in the wrong order? Upon making any of these minor blunders, do you say “I must be dyslexic!”

Or, when multi-tasking – and doing a poor job at it – say “There goes my ADD again!”

Yeah, thought so.

I’ve even done it, and I’m a special education teacher. I’ve been trained in dyslexia, ADHD and other learning challenges, and I’ve been schooled in the associated, politically correct lingo. You’d think I’d know better!

But I’m not here to shame anyone who has ever referred to themselves as dyslexic, ADD or having any other disorder. Often, we make light of our mistakes in order to lessen our embarrassment. When other people are around to witness our mishaps, we often use humor to lighten up the situation. It’s totally natural.

What I think is the most telling aspect of our culture’s (mis)use of terms like ‘dyslexia’ and ‘ADHD’ is that it reinforces an over-simplified view of these disorders. For example, dyslexia is a language processing disorder. Basically, the brain of someone with dyslexia doesn’t organize, store and/or recall letters and sounds as efficiently as a “typical” learner. Someone with dyslexia may never switch letters around or write them backwards. Dyslexia usually shows up when a young child starts learning to read. When a child starts struggling with early reading skills in kindergarten and first grade, it can be a red flag for dyslexia.

ADHD has even more myths attached to it. At its core, ADHD is a disorder that impacts a person’s ability to monitor and control him/herself. People with ADHD are not always hyper, loud or spacey. It is possible for someone with ADHD to focus too much, latching onto a task even when it is time to put it away or move on to another activity. People who struggle with ADHD and self-awareness can be sluggish or vacillate in their mood or energy levels.

Like all aspects of mental and emotional well-being, learning challenges like dyslexia and ADHD are complicated. These disorders are rarely cut-and-dry or manifest in one of two telltale signs.

And while I have no plans to play Grammar Police or correct anyone who diagnoses themselves as “dyslexic” or “ADD” in a casual, joking way, it is important to separate myth from fact. Over-simplifying the disorders that affect millions of people can impact the way these learners are taught and treated.

So the next time you use one of these terms in the pop-culture sense, prove to yourself (and one else around!) that you do NOT have ADHD by demonstrating self-control and changing your choice of words. If you mess up while writing down a phone number, use a wisecrack like “Oops! I was used to giving out fake numbers from back in my single days, guess it’s still a habit!”

There are endless creative options at self-deprecating humor that don’t involve learning disorders.


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