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Movie and TV Characters That Give Life to My ADHD Symptoms

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After my ADHD diagnosis, I couldn’t help but see things differently. Looking back at habits and behaviors, there were aspects of my life that suddenly made sense through the lens of my ADHD. The same is true when I watch and re-watch some of my favorite movies and TV shows.

Some of my favorite characters seem to have traits of ADHD. I can’t say for sure if these fictional characters have ADHD or not, but their idiosyncrasies make them all the more relatable — and human — for me. I have a much deeper appreciation of these characters now that I can see parts of myself in them.

Below are five well-known characters from movies and TV that, in my opinion, show familiar characteristics of ADHD.

Movies

Movie: ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Finding Dory’

Character: Dory

Dory is one of the most well-known characters on this list. She’s sweet, lovable, and has short-term memory loss. Overall, Dory is a pretty good caricature of someone with ADHD.

Here are some ways Dory shows signs of ADHD:

She is forgetful in daily activities. This is the theme of the film. Dory experiences short-term memory loss. It drives much of the comedy in the movie, but also a lot of the conflict. Being unable to recall certain details puts a strain her ability to remember clues that could lead her to find what she’s after.

She has difficulty paying attention. There are several moments in both films when Dory forgets the task at hand. This could make it exceedingly difficult (but entertaining!) when you’re on a mission to find a loved one in the vast ocean.

She’s always on the go. One theme of ‘Finding Dory’ was her embracing her impulsiveness. Rather than sit around to debate her options, she lives in the moment and trusts her instincts.

How I relate: I think I empathize with Dory the most out of any of the characters on this list. Dory can’t sleep because she’s trying so hard to remember something; I’ve had insomnia since I was 2 years old. Most of the time it was because I was trying to remember something I heard that day, but couldn’t quite put my finger on. At age 2, it was probably a joke I heard on TV. At age 8, it was a homework assignment. At age 15, it was a question on a test. Whatever it was, sleep has always eluded me, and I can’t help but wonder if ADHD is the culprit.

 

Movie: ‘Up’

Character: Dug

Some may argue that Dug is too much of a caricature of someone with ADHD, but personally, I love having Dug as a mascot for the condition. He’s friendly and loyal — and just about the most delightful character in the Pixar universe. For me, Dug shows some classic hallmarks of ADHD. Here’s how:

He has a short attention span and is easily distracted. In one scene — the famous "squirrel" bit — he shows the distractible attributes that come with ADHD.

He shows signs that indicate hyperfocus. Hyperfocus can be a major component of ADHD. When Dug is on a mission, he is focused on that mission, no matter what.

How I relate: What I love about Dug is how fully the writers embraced his short attention span and made it one of his most lovable characteristics. He may be a cartoon character, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t relate to the famous “squirrel!” bit at least once per day. The distractibility that comes with my ADHD is real; it’s easy for me to lose track of whatever I was doing. The smallest thing that catches my eye can send me chasing a metaphoric squirrel for hours on end.

 

Movie: ‘Harry Potter’

Character: Luna Lovegood

Luna Lovegood is one of the most intriguing and mysterious characters of the “Harry Potter” series. She also shows a less common, but no less valid symptom of ADHD:

She is inattentive. Many people with ADHD are very outgoing and friendly. Luna, however, is very quiet and reserved. She doesn’t sprint around the room like Dug or act on impulse like Dory, but she does fidget quite a bit and has periods of inattentiveness. She always seems to be lost in her own world, which can be a sign of someone with ADHD.

How I relate: I relate to Luna’s character more than any other. She’s not your typical overly energetic caricature of someone with ADHD. She’s reserved, introverted, and highly intelligent. These aren’t typical characteristics people associate with the hyperactive types of ADHD, but are still very real.

 

TV shows

Show: ‘How I Met Your Mother’

Character: Barney Stinson

"They said I had A… D… can we have class outside?!" Barney is probably one of the most talked about TV characters of recent history. People either love him or hate him. Unlike others on this list, he is actually diagnosed with ADHD on the show. I appreciate how well-rounded and complex his character is. Rather than having him be silly just for comic relief, he is given a complex past that explains many of his personality traits. Here’s how he exhibits his ADHD:

He’s always on the go. It seems like Barney is on a new mission on every episode. His job is a mystery until the near end of the series, but we know he’s always up to something.

He has a short attention span and interrupts others. Perhaps the most famous womanizer in television history, Barney has a hard time keeping long-term relationships. He’s always jumping from woman to woman, unable to commit to one. There are also many moments where he isn't able to focus on conversations and frequently interrupts the other characters.

How I relate: Not interrupting people is a huge challenge for me. It’s not that I’m trying to disrespect anyone; I just can’t help it sometimes. My ADHD sometimes makes me get lost in my head and as soon as I think of something I have to tell the world! It’s excitement more than anything else.

 

Show: ‘Scrubs’

Character: John Dorian (J.D.)

J.D. is an example of someone who exhibits symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive ADHD. Here’s how:

He is inattentive. J.D. frequently spaces out during conversations. He daydreams so often that it’s part of the show’s plot.

He is hyperactive. J.D. acts on a daydream as soon as he comes out of one. This demonstrates the characteristics of severe impulsivity. He also frequently blurts out whatever he’s thinking at the moment.

How I relate: JD is one of the quirkier characters on TV, but he’s still a great doctor. I like to think, in spite of all of the struggles I’ve had with ADHD, I’m great at my job! Like JD, my ADHD has played a big role in my career choice. While I don’t think I’d survive in medical school like him, my ADHD has certainly played a role in helping me pursue a creative career.

Takeaway

Of course, having ADHD is no laughing matter. These characters may seem to exhibit signs of ADHD, but their quirky traits are meant to entertain and not to offend. As someone living with ADHD, I’m happy when I come across a character on TV or in a movie that I can relate to. In fact, I think it’s great for Hollywood to open the door to a conversation on the condition, as long as it’s done in a respectful manner.

For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

Article resources

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