Over the last week, Love Island viewers watched our coupled-up contestants face what is dubbed their “ultimate test”, with some fans surprised by just how many had their heads turned.
One of those was Jacques O’Neill, who was originally coupled up with Paige Thorne. During Casa Amor, we saw him justify getting to know multiple girls because he needed to test their connection, with his actions eventually being revealed during the explosive recoupling on Thursday night.
After criticism of his behaviour as misogynistic and manipulative, those handling the professional rugby player’s Instagram account posted a screenshot on Saturday about ADHD, alongside a caption that read: “Jacques was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 9 years old. By no means is this a get out clause for his actions but it is to show that he can fundamentally struggle with his emotions at times.”
With this knowledge and as someone who also has ADHD, I can look at some of O’Neill’s behaviours with a different lens. His struggles to tell Thorne how he felt, culminating in telling her on the stairs, could be a product of Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, as those with ADHD are extremely sensitive to criticism or rejection. It’s also clear that he does often act impulsively, from running across the villa and jumping on a sofa or in the pool, to speaking quickly and interrupting in discussions.
What cannot be excused by ADHD is O’Neill’s now infamous “Paige who?”, his use of degrading language like calling Thorne “pathetic”, and twisting the fact they’re technically single in order to justify his behaviour when she returned.
Love Island has had a tiny handful of neurodivergent contestants in eight seasons. Niall Aslam from season four is autistic, but only nine days in, he was admitted to a private hospital for care. The decision to reveal O’Neill’s ADHD at this point in the programme is actually harmful to neurodivergent people – it looks like an attempt at damage control, in order to excuse his “Jack the lad” behaviour in Casa Amor, and treatment of Thorne both before and after the so-called “lad’s holiday”.
Many who were speaking out against his behaviour now seem to have backed off due to this revelation, and comments on his Instagram are full of defence – some infantilising in nature, which is something many disabled people experience.
Whilst Casa Amor could be seen as a more difficult experience for those with ADHD, due to issues with impulsivity and object permanence, there is no excuse for the double standards showed by O’Neill and the other boys. In the main villa, Tasha Ghouri and Ekin-Su Culculoglu were criticised for getting to know others, which was clearly rooted in misogyny as when the boys left, they made far more significant moves with the new girls.
O’Neill’s disregard for Thorne can’t simply be written off as part of neurodivergence or down to a struggle with object permanence – which means being able to remember what exists when it is not in front of you. Thorne was brought up in most conversations, and O’Neill still shared a bed with and kissed Cheyanne Kerr.
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Several women with ADHD have spoken up on social media about this reveal, discussing the fact that misogyny and bad behaviour are not part of his diagnosis. There is a difference between society viewing people with ADHD as rude and disrespectful because we might interrupt or forget something we were told five minutes ago, and behaviour that is simply disrespectful of women generally.
It is, however, evident that, like Tasha Ghouri’s deafness, there are aspects to O’Neill’s behaviour that are becoming part of the meme culture that accompanies the programme. On Sunday night, we saw O’Neill write a long note on his phone which he intends to read to Thorne, which has become the product of many viral tweets. In reality, this is likely a communication support tool, with many ADHD and otherwise neurodivergent people using scripting as a way of grounding us and preventing impulsivity from impacting important discussions.
Ultimately, O’Neill’s behaviour should be criticised where it is a double standard, rooted in slut shaming or cheating – but we also must ensure that we’re not stigmatising ADHD in the process. Neurotypical people can display bad behaviours, and so can neurodivergent people. It shouldn’t be a criticism of everyone with that condition, nor should it cause gross comments about our valid behaviours.