When Jennifer Aniston accidentally used the word retard on a Regis & Kelly appearance this past summer, she caused quite a buzz. The word was used out of context when she related a story, “I play dress up. I do it for a living, like a retard.”
Used as slang years ago, the word, for all intents and purposes, has been socially banned since it increasingly became a means to ridicule the segment of the population that lives with mental retardation. If the word retard was the misnomer of the 70’s and 80’s, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder may just rank just as high as one of the most misused words in 2010.
There are so many myths surrounding A.D.H.D. that in 2002, a group of neuroscientists felt the need to publish a paper reporting that it is a real condition. Dr. Perri Klass reports in the NY Times that “in the face of ‘overwhelming’ scientific evidence, they complained, A.D.H.D. was regularly portrayed in the media as “myth, fraud or benign condition” — an artifact of too-strict teachers, or too much television.”
A.D.H.D. is a complex brain disorder that involves genes and circuitry. Enough studies have been done that link the genetic component. As Klass points out, “It is not the restlessness and rambunctiousness that happen when grade-schoolers are deprived of recess, or the distraction of socially minded teenagers in the smartphone era. Nor is it the reason your colleagues check their e-mail in meetings.”
One reason the disease is difficult to understand is probably because it is poorly named to begin with. Children with A.D.H.D. aren’t lacking attention. On the contrary, they require a deeper level attention to become fully immersed so mundane school lessons literally don’t hold their interest. The etiology of the disease is so multifaceted and complicated; it is nothing to take lightly on any level.
While the condition has been more researched and understood by scientists and the medical community in recent years, the general population may not be up to par on the disease. This may explain why so many people used the term interchangeably with words like restless, inattentive, and simply busy.
The ignorance surrounding the term only hurts its sufferers. How many times have you heard someone say that his “boss was so A.D.H.D.” or that that a child’s schoolmate was A.D.H.D. just because the child was very active and had troubling sitting still? The term gets so loosely thrown around, it becomes almost a joke in some circles, and that over time lessens the severity of the disease. How many walk people around saying that a child looks cancer stricken?
For the sake of full disclosure, I have to confess that I have been guilty in the past of saying that I “felt A.D.H.D.” on a certain day when I was overscheduled and (as usual) multi-tasking. I now realize that the condition is nothing to joke about, especially for the children and parents who live with it. Having a brain disorder is not part of an amusing anecdote. I have to say that I don’t think most people who use the term really understand the severity of the disease so for many people, I’m sure they don’t mean any harm by it. Maybe we have to slowly retool the term’s context and make sure that we use it properly so when someone does use it in a slang manner, we immediately object to it, the same way we do now with the word retard.
Do you agree this term is often misused and what other words do you think could use a good contextual clean up?
Image: MorgueFile: Phaewilk