November 2, 2023 | OPINION | By Charlotte Maley
Over this past summer, I wrote a short and unpolished longform essay titled “The Yassificationof ADHD.”
Although it was an essentially autobiographical piece, the overall argument was this: attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder has gone from being seen as a delinquent disability to a sought-after personality quirk in our culture, and this shift has resulted in increasing difficulty for students who actually have the diagnosis to be taken seriously, especially in higher education. I describe this glorification of ADHD as being a process of yassification because the “glow up” I think, is due primarily to social media.
The term ADHD has become so convoluted in our culture that it’s necessary to define it. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – an updated term for attention deficit disorder – is a childhood neurological disorder that can last into adulthood. It is both a general and learning disability that affects mood, cognition and behavior. It is – make no mistake – an absolute hindrance to modern existence and a difficult condition to have within contemporary American society. This reality of the disability, however, seems to have escaped popular discourse.
I, like many people, find myself on social media quite a bit, and have regrettably made my way onto a side of TikTok where women with greasy hair tell me all the ways ADHD is actually a superpower. All they want is to help people like me and them, to “honor their God-given gifts of creativity and resourcefulness. ADHD makes you an empath. You can hyper-focus if you have ADHD.” I saw a woman, giving what looked like a TED talk, say that ADHD is actually an evolutionarily advantageous trait.
All these people want to market ADHD as a desirable product; a crotchet worth developing. What used to be a go-to diagnosis to medicate Black and Brown children at poor public schools is now a must-have for white suburban women who keep losing their car keys. ADHD is just as in style as curtain bangs or putting blush on the tip of your nose, only it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Whether you’re a bored housewife with scatterbrain or a teenage rebel with bad grades, ADHD might be for you.
It’s understandable, of course, how this shift came about. It is impossible for most people to be satisfied with the modern educational or working conditions in which they find themselves, and it’s so much easier to get an Adderall prescription than to try and fix the structures that are leading to such general feelings of dissatisfaction. In the throes of identity politics and a widespread inability to thrive in a late-stage capitalist cesspool, it is not only the chronically online that are taking ADHD and running marathons with it.
Everyone from Brandy-girls in elite colleges to ex-frat boys in construction jobs are toying with the possibility that they, too, have a learning disability, and that this may explain everything from their inability to get a 4.0 grade point average to not being completely comfortable in social situations. It also may explain why they got really into World War II politics in middle school, or why they are so good at coming up with creative ideas for their sorority fundraiser.
According to TikTok, your failures and successes, as well as your strengths and weaknesses, are all signs that you are neurodivergent. ADHD has been “yassified” because it’s yet another example of something once considered deviant or even low-class being transformed and marketed into something fashionable by upper-middle class white women on social media.
It is undeniable that ADHD is much more widely accepted and sought after than it was just a decade ago. When I was in grade school, and really all the way through high school, what ADHD meant was that you were routinely suspended for behavioral problems or were put in classes for kids with a low IQ. It used to be embarrassing.
Of course, as someone with ADHD, I am not advocating for the return of this stereotype, nor the stigma that comes with it, but I do find it irritating how people today seem to be begging for the diagnosis of a disability that has made my life irrevocably harder.
Now that I’m in a relatively competitive and predominantly economically upper-class college, I have never met more people in my life who claim to have ADHD. This was a truly shocking thing for me to discover, as many of the students I meet who claim to have ADHD, or the possibility of it, have a clean behavioral record and were some of the top performers in their high schools.
They, in many ways, are the polar opposites of the deviants that ADHD diagnoses often allude to. The consequences of the yassification that I speak of, I believe, are due to this specific phenomenon.
Although the connotations ADHD has had for decades aren’t necessarily flattering, they at least succeeded in getting people, especially educators, to take it seriously as a disability. However, what I’ve noticed as more people who are seemingly ‘neurotypical’ claim to have ADHD, the term ceases to mean anything.
For example, if everyone started saying that they have narcolepsy and that’s why they slept through class, then people with the actual condition would have greater trouble convincing people to give them necessary accommodations. Even certified diagnoses don’t seem to get you a leg up anymore in the eyes of educators; there is not only the question of equity when it comes to accessing an official diagnosis, but the fact that the test for ADHD itself is so subjective that anyone could pay for one that confirms whatever result that they desire.
It seems that, as more and more people claim to either have ADHD or openly express that they think that they might have it, professors and bosses, as well as friends and family, seem less willing to negotiate with people who need accommodations on behalf of their ADHD. It is a problematic social phenomenon, not just because it’s annoying to watch the commodification of a disability that’s ravaged you your whole life, but for its ramifications on the lives of people who truly have the condition.
Ableism, in this context, is not only discrimination based on one’s ability, but the ignorant idolization and selective adoption of said disability, for they both result in the difficulty of students to thrive in an educational environment.