Your child isn’t ADD

The Pediatric Insider

© 2012 Roy Benaroch, MD

Your child isn’t ADD. Nor is he ADHD. Let’s be clear: what we say is important. Your child may have ADD, but I assure you that your child isn’t ADD, and isn’t any other disorder either.

This may seem like a bit of a rant today, but I’ve realized that a lot of parents and doctors seem to be talking about ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder) as if it defines a person. The phrase “My child is ADD” may not seem very offensive at first, but think about it for a minute. Would you say “My child is asthma” or “My child is belly ache” or “My child is depression”? Physicians seem to be doing it, too. If a doc told me “Your child is ADD”, I’d say “no he is not.”

Your child is a person, with strengths and weaknesses. He might not be very good at staying focused, and he might be fidgety and impulsive. He might need to work on getting a good nights sleep and improving his exercise habits. He might even have ADD. But is he ADD? No. Your child, I promise, is not a disorder.

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5 Comments on “Your child isn’t ADD”

  1. Thank you for your very thoughtful rant. 😉 As a mom of 2 with ADHD, I agree wholeheartedly.

    Atlhough there has been a quite lively discussion in the disability community this winter over “people first language.” You know, whether it is horrific to say that “my autistic child” rather than saying, “my child with autism.” For years, it has been verboten to say “my autistic child” because autism does not definte the child, much as you were saying that ADHD does not define a child with ADHD.

    But more recently, those actually WITH autism have been coming out and saying that, in fact, autism is such an integral part of who they are, that they identify with it closely, and that they are not merely a person with autism, but rather ARE “autistics.” Much like many people with Tourettes will say that they are “Touretters” or people with diabetes say that they are “diabetics.”

    I’d be happy to share links with you to some of the web pages where this debate raged this winter. It’s quite fascinating…….


  2. Thank you, Dr. Benaroch. I’ve been hearing this usage a lot from parents, (my son is ADHD). But now that I think of it, though, I’ve been saying “my daughter is dyslexic” and “my daughter has dyslexia” pretty interchangeably–as does she. Hmmmnn.

    The discussion (mostly by adult autistics) rejecting person-first language WAS pretty interesting. I liked Lydia Brown’s essay at The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism,


  3. Dr Roy Says:

    Interesting! I hadn’t thought about “ic” labels. It’s not up to me, but I would think if you use “ic” words as adjectives, that would be OK — “my autistic child” or “asthmatic son” doesn’t rub me the wrong way. But I don’t know about nounifying the “ic”– would you say “This is my autistic”? Now, if a person with autism wanted to introduce himself “I’m Bob, I’m autistic,” that’s fine with me. I’ll have to read what people in the autism community think about these ic-y labels.


  4. lilady Says:

    When I post on science blogs, I tend to vary my language, within the same comment..i.e. “children with autism” and “autistic children”. I’ve posted on many science blogs where the bloggers have children who have been diagnosed with ASDs, and never, until recently, have had the blogger or others who comment, personally attack me for posting with “people first” language:

    About three weeks ago, a science blogger who is an epidemiologist and a child advocate, blogged about a young man diagnosed with an ASD who was bludgeoned and left for dead, by a caregiver:

    Almost simultaneously, two people posted…not about the outrageous criminal acts committed by a sexual predator upon this defenseless disabled child…but to chastise the science blogger and me, for referring to the child as diagnosed with an ASD.

    I also had “a problem” went I posted on a popular media internet site, when I referred to my now deceased son, born with a rare genetic disorder and his diagnosis of profound mental retardation. A child advocate who has been active in the autism community chided me for NOT using “people first” language. I posted back at that child advocate that “mental retardation…mild, moderate, severe and profound” is the terminology when used in the clinical area and when used in published science papers:

    I believe that I first started using “people first” language years ago when I was in college, studying for my Bsc-Nursing degree…and long before the debate about euphemisms and semantics presented themselves on the internet. I sensed early on that I would not like to be referred to by doctors and nurses as “the gall bladder in room 111, bed B”.

    So, I will continue to vary my posts on science blogs, by using “people first” phrases and “autistic” phrases. I’d like to think that the content of my posts, not semantics, are evaluated for their accuracy.


  5. Dr. Roy Says:

    I don’t have strong feelings about “people first” versus traditional adjective-before-noun (ie, child with autism vs. autistic child.) It does get tiresome to always use the people-first form. I agree for writing it makes sense to vary.

    Nounifying a diagnosis is cringeworthy (“The gall bladder in room 111”, or “My child is ADD”). Though now I’ve gone and verbified the word noun. What a language!


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