About That ADHD Award: Why a Bad Joke in Georgia Hits Close to Home

It wasn’t funny. It was cruel. Last week a middle school in Georgia gave a girl with ADHD an award for “Most Likely to ‘Not Pay Attention.’” The words were engraved on a glass trophy that was presented to her at a school assembly. It was the fanciest form of bullying I’ve ever seen.

Like many parents, I couldn’t believe that the school had allowed this to happen. As the story went viral, the school district reacted quickly. It announced that two teachers involved in the awards would not be returning to the school next year.

But something else struck me about this terribly unfunny joke in Georgia. It’s an extreme version of something that’s been happening for years: end-of-the-year awards that tease students rather than celebrate their achievements.

When I was in school, we voted on senior superlatives that were mostly positive, like “Friendliest” and “Best Smile.” But we had a few that were edgier. The girl who won “Most Likely to Show Up at the Wrong School at the 10-Year Reunion” was the class clown. She thought the award was hilarious.

But what about our stressed-out classmate who won “Most Stressed”? If winning that award upset her, she didn’t show it. Or at least I wasn’t aware of it back then.

Which brings me back to last week’s story in Georgia. According to news reports, the eighth grader was originally going to be awarded “Most Likely to Ask a Question That Has Already Been Answered.”

If the school had stuck with that original wording, or if the child who won the award hadn’t been diagnosed with ADHD, most people wouldn’t have thought twice about it. They would have just laughed and moved on.

The Georgia story made headlines because of the blatant insensitivity of giving a child with ADHD an award for not paying attention. But there are subtler digs, and we need to put an end to those too.

It’s 2017, and we still have a long way to go in terms of raising awareness and reducing stigma. That’s why this bad joke in Georgia hits so close to home. It’s a reminder that we need to keep pushing for progress.

Neurodiversity is still a new concept to many people. We need to help more students, parents and educators start to understand—and celebrate—kids’ differences, not turn them into a punch line.

Learn how to be an effective advocate for your child. Get tips on how to talk to your child’s teacher about ADHD. And hear from an expert on what to do if a teacher is mean to your child.

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