Seeing My ADHD Signs in Books
When I was a kid, my parents would read to me and my siblings all the time. It is a habit that continued after I learned to read myself and that kept me awake many nights after bed. My favorites include Eloise, Curious George, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. As I got older, I switched to Amelia Bedelia, then Anne of Green Gables and A Wrinkle in Time.
It wasn’t until later in life that I realized that these remarkable characters, all of whom are very different, had something in common. They weren’t the classic, no-nonsense heroes we’ve come to expect from our protagonists. They had glaring flaws which, despite their best intentions and efforts, sometimes held them back.
Still, I gravitated towards these characters because I recognized my own ADHD struggles in their vivid descriptions. In their stories, I recognized myself and the much-needed hope that I could overcome my struggles and be loved – even celebrated – despite them.
Recognize my symptoms
Like Amelia Bedelia, I have a bizarre knack for getting things wrong in completely unpredictable ways (clever puns aren’t guaranteed).
Like the curious George, I always start with the best of intentions, but I tend to lose sight of my path and my destination along the way.
[Get This Free Download: The ADHD Library for Parents]
Like Meg Murray, I whizzed through the class curriculum and then struggled to explain everything in between (okay, she’s a few points more brilliant than me) or do the things that everyone else found as easy as identifying myself with my classmates .
Like Anne Shirley, I lose myself in my own imagination and lose track of what’s going on around me and then inevitably get caught up in some strange kind of scramble.
We find ourselves in fictional characters
I am nowhere near the first person looking for my own ADHD symptoms in fictional characters. In fact, reader diagnoses of the characters they love are a bit of an odd but extremely common phenomenon. Did you know Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse character has ADHD? What about Sherlock Holmes? Tiger?
Why are we doing this
[Read: 10 Book Characters Who Make Us Smile]
We react strongly when we recognize ourselves in a character, and perhaps it is human nature to want to pass on the same label that others have put on our behavior. But there is power to relate to the word on a page. If you are used to being misunderstood, this recognition is a huge relief.
That way, Anne, Meg, and other characters who shared my struggles tapped something deep inside my soul long before I knew what I was seeing in them. (And long before I was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD in high school.)
If they could move the plot forward despite their mistakes, doomed to repeating their infamous quirks in their world over and over again, then maybe I could be a powerful and memorable protagonist in my own world.
What it means to be a protagonist
What did it mean to me to see myself – mistakes and everything – in these protagonists?
A protagonist is traditionally someone worth rooting for. A protagonist comes out on the other side of his challenge and has done more good than harm. A protagonist overcomes.
There were so many opportunities that I struggled to connect, adapt, and keep up as a kid. Seeing fictional characters grappling with the same problems I had was downright cathartic. Anne, Meg, Amelia, that little mouse who nibbled on a cookie and got a haircut at the end – these characters were the first to comfort me and help me cope with my ADHD symptoms long before I knew how I should call her.
In addition, these characters were rounded and dynamic – so much more so than their shortcomings. Any worthy writer will tell you that a good character has both weaknesses and strengths.
Even at times when I was overwhelmed by my ADHD symptoms (and admittedly this is the main cause of some permanent burdens), I had these characters deep in my psyche that reminded me that ADHD is much more than a list of symptoms , bad stereotypes, or weird quirks. ADHD can also lead to creative insight, great adaptability, resilience, and even doggedly intense focus.
There is power in representation
As a writer, I’m biased, but I’ve always believed that stories and characters have great power. I’d love to see more characters with an actual ADHD diagnosis in our school libraries – more stories like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, in which the hero’s ADHD and dyslexia are part of what makes him special and overpowering.
Although I was drawn to their stories because I saw my ADHD reflect in them, these characters are some of the most popular ones around, ADHD or not. They are popular because there is a glowing light in them that outshines their limits and generally expresses our ability to overcome them. A hopeful light.
Fictional Characters and ADHD: The Next Steps
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider registering. Your readership and support help make our content and reach possible. Thanks very much.
# Commissions earned As an Amazon partner, ADDitude earns a commission from qualified purchases made by ADDitude readers through the affiliate links we share. However, all products linked in the ADDitude Store have been independently selected by our editors and / or recommended by our readers. Prices are correct and items are in stock at the time of publication.
Save on computer