OCD and ADD/ADHD Are Not Character Flaws

You've surely heard or read people saying something like, "I'm so ADD" or "I'm totally OCD." I'll tell you what I am - I'm annoyed when people casually throw around these terms. Sure, I know what they mean. In a self-deprecating way they are saying, "I can be really picky," "I worry about little things a lot," or "I'm easily distracted" (ADD, clinically known as ADHD). They use the terms to indicate a character flaw. Like it's cute. And that's a problem. It is sloppy language that feeds myths.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling brave, I try to straighten out the language. I start with asking if whatever habit they have keeps them from having normal life. The answer has always been "no." So then I tell them that the D in OCD and ADD/ADHD stands for disorder which is a disturbance in normal functioning. And, if the label used was OCD (for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), I tell them my personal story. My 10-year old son has OCD, having been diagnosed when he was 6-years old after we realized he'd scrubbed a great deal of skin from his hands because he was convinced his germs would kill his little sister. It was summer and he wouldn't play outside or ride his bike because that would bring more germs into the house. And he cried about it.

Here's the thing, I believe this casual labeling perpetuates misconceptions. I'm not an expert in a clinical sense, but I consider myself more educated than the average person when it comes to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). So, let me cover a few of the misconceptions.

People who have OCD:
  • Aren't necessarily just fussy about stuff.
  • Aren't curmudgeons.
  • Don't just start acting weird when they are stressed.
  • Don't just simply worry about details.
  • Don't just worry about germs or wash their hands or count and check things. The obsessions can be quite elusive and the compulsions can involve everyday behaviors that you might not associate with an obsession in isolation.
  • Don't always have obsessions and compulsions that are obviously connected to one another from the outsiders perspective.
  • Do have a medical disorder that causes their brains to get stuck on a thought which in turn can prompt them to use behaviors for relief.
  • Are aware of their disorder.
  • Can be charming, successful individuals.
  • Don't have a character flaw...well, at least OCD isn't a character flaw.
I know less about ADD/ADHD even though I also have personal experience with it. In fact, I'm not sure the proper acronym to use. I can tell you this much - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder does not always involve hyperactivity and it isn't about not being able to pay attention at all. In fact, many ADDers (as they are sometimes known) actually experience a state of hyper-attention, meaning they can focus intently on a particular subject matter to the exclusion or even detriment of other subjects and activities.

In case you're wondering, my son doesn't scrub his hands anymore. He moved on to questions and rituals that look pretty normal to someone who doesn't live with them from day to day. We have the help of a great school, a caring counselor and a skilled neurologist. And, my son is warm, charming, bright and funny - he often finds the humor in his own behavior. And when we he hears someone say, "I'm so OCD," he just looks at me, raises an eyebrow and smiles at me.

Please take the time to learn more. Visit the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) or Additude Magazine.