From Dory to Percy and beyond, meet our 10 favorite film characters — the ones who taught us something important about living, loving and following your ADHD passions. For your next movie night. What would you add to our list?
As you know, attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD) comes with its fair share of superpowers: creativity, hyperfocus, and determination are just a few. One less-celebrated gift, though, is the ability to spot another person with ADHD in a hot second — especially if he or she is up in lights. We don't need an overt ADHD diagnosis; we can tell in one colorful monologue or manic action sequence that we've found a kindred spirit. Check out these family-friendly movies with ADHD themes, and find fictional role models you and your child can watch on screen again and again.
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Maria von Trapp, "The Sound of Music"
“How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?” Maria von Trapp is a vibrant example of a woman with hyperactive-type ADHD — an oft-ignored archetype in a world that focuses on hyperactivity in young boys. Her uncontrollable exuberance (and constant lateness) makes her ill-suited to life as a nun, but she’s perfect as a governess and music teacher to 7 young children — proving that people with ADHD shine brightest in positions that play to their strengths and encourage personal freedom.
Hiccup feels different from the other Vikings in his village. “He doesn't listen,” says the father of How to Train Your Dragon's main character. “He has the attention span of a sparrow... I take him fishing, and he goes hunting for trolls!” Sound familiar? The more Hiccup tries to fit in with his "neurotypical" tribe, the more alienated he becomes. It’s only when this young warrior accepts his differences and follows his own path — defying Viking traditions in the process — that he realizes his strengths and saves his village.
Dory, from Pixar's Finding Nemo, is a kind-hearted regal blue tang who struggles with short-term memory — a common problem among children and adults with ADHD. She can’t remember names, places, or the fish she meets — until she develops structure through a close relationship with the tightly wound clownfish Marlin. You and your child will laugh, cry, and everything in between as you follow Dory and Marlin on their adventure to save Nemo, and Dory’s advice to “Just keep swimming!” will help you or your child when difficult ADHD symptoms get you down.
Percy Jackson doesn’t just have ADHD — he also struggles with dyslexia. That makes school tough, but in this Greek mythology-inspired series, these deficits become strengths: Percy's dyslexia helps him read Ancient Greek, for starters, and his ADHD allows him to adapt to changes quickly and win battles against terrifying gods and mythical creatures. The film’s director, Chris Columbus, says he was inspired to take on the project because of Percy’s struggles. He hopes that when children with learning differences see the movie, “they may think to themselves, ‘I feel empowered. Maybe I can turn it around and start to feel more positive about things.’”
Daniel — portrayed by the incomparable Robin Williams — loves his children to the moon and back, but he is often too impulsive or unreliable to be a supportive father. After throwing a wild party for his son against his ex-wife’s wishes (something many parents with ADHD may relate to), he’s forced to disguise himself as an elderly nanny to continue spending time with his kids — learning structure and bettering himself as a parent in the process. Your children will laugh at Williams’ comedic genius (who could forget the restaurant costume changes?), and take to heart the film’s message — that there is no one perfect kind of family.
Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma focuses on Emma Woodhouse, a happy and wealthy woman who delights in interfering in others' relationships. Emma is a daydreamer; she imagines herself a matchmaker but misses critical details in her surrounding environment. Like many of us, she struggles with social interactions, misreading her friends’ cues as she muddles haphazardly with their lives. Several movie adaptations of Emma exist, but the 1996 version with Gwyneth Paltrow is a good (and PG-rated) place for families touched by ADHD to start.
Dug, a chubby Golden Retriever from the Pixar masterpiece Up, is an excellent tracker and an extremely loyal friend — until he gets distracted by a squirrel, of course. You can use Dug’s distractible nature to teach your child about the challenges of staying focused in the face of enticing interruptions — all while trying not to cry at the movie’s touching depiction of lifelong love and the spirit of adventure.
Juno, the title character of this 2007 coming-of-age story, often acts or speaks without thinking — frequently with uncomfortable or even life-changing results. She’s immensely confident in herself — a challenge for many with ADHD — but struggles to control her impulsive actions before they get her into trouble. With more mature themes of sex, teen motherhood, and the ups and downs of relationships, Juno may not be suitable for younger viewers, but high school kids will get a kick out of the sarcastic humor and indie soundtrack — plus, any teen with ADHD who feels a bit “weird” will find solace in Juno’s strength, independence, and whip-smart comebacks.
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