Using labels as an excuse or explanation

Are there any issues using terms like ADHD, neurodivergent or autistic to label ourselves? Can it excuse or explain our daily lives?

Using labels as an excuse or explanation

This week’s photos are from a trip on the free Staten Island ferry, in NYC.

On the deck of a Staten Island ferry, the John F. Kennedy.
On the deck of a Staten Island ferry, the John F. Kennedy.

Using labels as an explanation or excuse

The other day, while discussing ADHD and autism with someone, they made a comment I found strange. “People are using the term neurodivergent as an excuse.” I was taken aback by that. Were they? Are they? Was this the Daily Mail outraged in human form, or an actual issue to be aware of?

How I normally write my newsletters is I have a thought stuck in my head. I research it and try to find out if I’m right or wrong. If I’m wrong I’ll try and explore what that means. In science, being wrong simply means you have more to learn. It’s not a bad thing. I’ve tried to look into this issue of using labels, to find people smarter than I who have properly discussed this and it’s tricky. Google presents me with everyone’s hot take on it from tabloids to the social network formally known as Twitter to Reddit. It’s… a lot. I concluded that using labels is like quantum theory in that they are used as both an explanation and an excuse, depending on how you observe them.

I asked Google Gemini whether “using neurodivergent as an excuse is bad?”. This is an AI response, so take it with a pinch of salt.

There can be downsides to using neurodivergence as an excuse. Here’s why:

Avoidance of responsibility: If someone uses it to avoid taking ownership of their actions, it can come across as dismissive. Perpetuates stereotypes: It can reinforce negative views of neurodivergent people if used for behaviours unrelated to their condition. Undermines genuine needs: If someone constantly uses it as an excuse, it can make it harder for others to take legitimate needs seriously. However, neurodivergence is a real thing! Here’s how to navigate it:

Focus on explanation: Instead of excuse, explain how your neurodivergence affects you in that situation. Seek solutions: Show a willingness to work with others to find ways to manage the situation. Take responsibility: Acknowledge your part and what you can do to improve. Overall, it’s about open communication and finding a balance between understanding neurodivergence and taking responsibility for your actions.

For balance, I asked ChatGPT too.

Using the term “neurodivergent” to excuse behaviour can be a delicate matter. On one hand, recognizing and understanding neurodiversity is crucial for promoting inclusivity and understanding differences in cognition and behaviour. However, using neurodivergence as an excuse for harmful behaviour is not acceptable.

It’s essential to strike a balance between acknowledging and accommodating neurodivergent traits while still holding individuals accountable for their actions. People with neurodivergent conditions should be supported with understanding and appropriate accommodations, but they should also be encouraged to take responsibility for their behaviour and work towards constructive solutions. It’s about fostering an environment of empathy, support, and accountability.

As far as asking an AI for answers goes, at least in this case, can provide a healthier response than all of the internet’s hot takes. But, is this information useful or even valid? I found some interesting papers and thoughts on the subject that offer a more in-depth response than the AI gave.

After all this, I’m a bit lost. I was unable to find a clear scientific answer. Do/don’t do this because of X. Life isn’t that easy or black and white. There may be times when it is good to use labels. I cannot get medication for ADHD without the label of being someone who has ADHD. At the same time, it took me years to realise I had ADHD because the label does not describe me. It wasn’t until I learned about ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) that I realised I might have found something to describe the parts of me that aren’t autistic. By the time I found that the label ADD had been retired and people were using ADHD-type attentive/inattentive. People and language are complex.

Should we be using labels? If it helps you, go for it. Don’t let others dictate how you find your way through life. If someone is knowingly using a term to excuse bad behaviour then that’s something they have to consider for themselves. For me, I use labels to connect with people and ideas. On my photography portfolio, I describe myself as a non-binary autistic photographer with ADHD. There’s a chance that may put people off, and would I want to work with those people anyway? That said, it may bring in the kind of people I want to work with. These labels are who I am. At least they’re the best words we have to describe who I am right now. They connect me with communities, friends, and ideas. I’m happy to identify myself this way, but I am also more than the labels.

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