11 Movies That Show What It’s Like To Live With ADHD
Oct 5, 2023, 10 min read
Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record for representing mental health conditions well on screen, but films can often give us insight into the reality of living with certain conditions – we took a closer look at this in our article: Eating Disorder Movies: 10 Films That Show The Reality of EDs.
This time, we’re looking at representations of ADHD on the big screen. Some have been portrayed well, and others have slightly missed the mark, but may still provide some insight into certain symptoms, whether you are looking for in-depth documentaries, or light-hearted children’s films to broach the subject of mental health in a casual way.
At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest, and our aim here is to provide a variety of viewpoints and characters that add to the conversation on ADHD in some way.
A quick disclaimer
We have attempted to include films that properly portray mental health conditions without trivialising or misrepresenting the true experience of many people who live with conditions in real life.
However, we have included a few that can help to inspire and empower people living with ADHD, even though they do not necessarily give a full and accurate picture of the symptoms and treatments involved. If you live with ADHD or know someone who does, we recommend keeping this in mind if you decide to watch any of the below films.
What is ADHD?
For children, this might mean they experience symptoms that cause them to struggle when playing quietly or taking instructions without distraction. Some children also show hyperactivity symptoms, but ADHD does tend to present differently in girls than in boys (showing more inattentive features than hyperactivity), so this is certainly not the only symptom to watch out for.
For adults, ADHD has a range of symptoms that can cause problems. These include symptoms like impulsive behaviours, trouble focusing, an inability to pay attention for long periods of time, and more. These symptoms can cause issues in daily life and make things like studying, working, organising and managing time more challenging. They may also experience things like ADHD burnout and impulse spending, which are more relevant to adult life.
In the films below, we have attempted to include different types of people struggling with a range of ADHD symptoms, rather than the often stereotypical image of a young hyperactive male child. With these diverse characters, we aim to show that ADHD can affect absolutely anyone, and diagnoses should take this into account.
The plot of Juno has nothing to do with ADHD, and yet it seems to play a big role in the film. Many people with ADHD believe this simple story of an accidental teenage pregnancy actually depicts the main character’s experience of her ADHD traits while navigating the tricky situation she finds herself in.
It is the opinion of many cinephiles with ADHD that although the condition isn’t officially part of Juno’s fictional character profile, and therefore cannot be assumed, many of her actions and thoughts hint at classic symptoms. It is a refreshing portrayal of ADHD because it offers a different perspective, showing how the condition can manifest in girls and women, and also how underlying symptoms (like the ADHD iceberg) can be difficult to spot.
The character of Juno herself is incredibly smart, witty and confident, but struggles with impulsivity (which gets her in hot water a few times throughout the film) and emotional dysregulation. She must traverse these emotional ups and downs while making difficult decisions about her pregnancy.
Attention Please (2018)
This short documentary film focuses on a 5-year-old boy diagnosed with ADHD, and his mother – the filmmaker, Andrea Thornton – who is trying to learn more about the treatment options available. She feels that the only treatment being offered to her son is medication, so she goes in search of alternative therapy options to manage his ADHD that do not involve medication.
Some may feel that this film only offers a one-sided view, as it is skewed towards not medicating children, however – whichever side of that fence you sit on – it does give an excellent overview of how misdiagnosis and mislabelling a child’s condition can harm them in the long run.
For parents on a journey to discover more about their child’s condition and make decisions around their treatment and care, this film could provide some perspective on the other options available that don't involve medication.
Julie & Julia (2009)
This uplifting film follows two true stories; chef Julia Child, and writer Julie Powell, who made it her mission to cook all 524 recipes from Child’s cookbook within a year. The film is based on Powell’s memoir, titled ‘Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously’.
Although ADHD is not mentioned within the film, it becomes clear that Julie is struggling. She appears unable to keep her life in balance, which is a good representation of how ADHD can manifest in adult women. She alludes to being the type of person who starts but never finishes things, and she also becomes somewhat obsessive about her cooking project and blog, which shows the trait of hyper focus very well.
On the surface, this is a fun, light hearted movie that shows a young woman finding her way in the world, but if you decide to look at it through an ADHD lens, you might find some inspiration that shows how hyper focus and a little help can lead you to achieve great things despite managing symptoms.
Percy Jackson & the Olympians (2010)
The Percy Jackson films are based on a series of fantasy novels in which the main character, Percy, has both dyslexia and ADHD. The series has a recurring theme of Greek mythology, and Percy's dyslexia is said to help him read ancient Greek, while his ADHD symptoms help him tackle a number of epic challenges in this adventure movie.
It is documented that the director, Chris Columbus, wanted to inspire young people facing conditions like the above, by showing how their unique brain can become their superpower. While the character would not be described as a particularly accurate portrayal of ADHD, for young adults struggling to learn in school, and feeling like they don’t belong, this film could be particularly inspiring.
Free The Mind (2012)
Free The Mind is a documentary film featuring professor Richard Davidson, who works at the University of Wisconsin Waisman Center to help people suffering from various mental health problems. The film focuses on different subjects, including war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and a 5-year-old child diagnosed with ADHD.
Through various forms of therapy including yoga and meditation, and regular screening to discover their progress, the film shows that subtle changes over time can make a huge difference in the long run, and highlights the importance of ongoing therapy. Functions of the ADHD brain are also shown well through illustrations, which help the viewer to visualise the science of what is going on inside.
The film is largely positive, showing the rapid progress made by the subjects through various forms of therapy, and reminding us that there is so much we have yet to learn about the brain, and therefore so much potential for future treatments.
Emma (1996 and 2020)
There are several adaptations of Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma, but the Gwenyth Paltrow version in 1996 and the Anya Taylor-Joy version in 2020 may be the best ones to highlight the suspected ADHD that the main character has.
While it is never entirely accurate to diagnose fictional characters, the original novel and its film adaptations over the years have featured a wealthy woman with a tendency for daydreaming, who tries to interfere in the affairs of others, but regularly misunderstands situations due to her inability to focus on details. ADHD is never mentioned in any of the stories, but many readers have pointed out Emma’s unique traits as being very similar to those of a female with ADHD.
Charlie Bartlett (2007)
Charlie Bartlett is one of the few films featuring a fictional character who is actually diagnosed with ADHD within the story. Charlie is an American teen who, after being diagnosed, decides to act as a psychiatrist in his school. This takes him from unknown to popular virtually overnight.
Before his popularity boost, Charlie struggles with fitting in, making friends, performing well academically, and managing fluctuations in his mood. All of these things make for an interesting coming-of-age movie on the surface, but showcase symptoms that regularly impact the day-to-day lives of people who struggle with the condition.
The film and its main character were named after British experimental psychologist Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett, who was one of the first cognitive psychologists. The film could be described as a Hollywood interpretation of ADHD symptoms, but it does highlight a few of the challenges young people face.
The Disruptors (2022)
The Disruptors is another documentary film exploring the subject of ADHD, but in a unique way. It follows a group of real-life people living with the condition, some of whom are well-known celebrities, and all of whom are incredibly successful in their respective fields.
The film highlights many of the typical symptoms of different types of ADHD, as well as showing how people can both overcome these symptoms, and thrive with them. It touches on the subjects’ symptoms, misdiagnoses, difficulties and triumphs, showing how they have gone on to achieve amazing things as a result of their hyper focus and other symptoms. This is certainly one of the most inspiring films you can watch on the subject of ADHD, and we recommend it if you are looking for an empowering film with a positive outlook.
The Other Tom (2021)
The Other Tom is a drama film about a single mother relying on the help of social services in El Paso, Texas, to help her deal with her young son’s behavioural issues. Tom is disregarded at school as a difficult child, and deals with a lot of anger problems before being diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication. After an accident occurs, his mother looks further into the side effects and decides to stop giving her son the medication.
The film has pros and cons. On the plus side, it highlights one particular symptom – anger – that is not often featured in other films showing ADHD symptoms. On the other hand, the film gives a mostly negative view of ADHD medication, which many find to be helpful or in some cases life-changing, so it is important to maintain an open mind when watching this film.
You may wish to read more about medication in our article: Your Guide to ADHD Medication in the UK (for Adults & Children)
Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)
This multi-award-winning film is a lot of fun to watch, and while it isn’t entirely about ADHD, it does have many connections to the condition. The producer’s early intent was to “create a movie about chaos” which this film certainly achieves, and many of the characters display ADHD behaviours.
Lead character Evelyn is a Chinese American laundromat owner who can’t seem to keep on top of her life. With a failing business and the IRS chasing her, she ends up exploring the many potential versions of her life through alternate universes.
According to interviews, in researching the story, one of the directors discovered his own undiagnosed ADHD. Many feel the entire film is a nod to the ADHD brain, and viewers who live with the condition say they felt a deep connection to the story. That said, others who have ADHD mentioned feeling overwhelmed when watching due to the style of the film, so we recommend viewing this one with caution.
Finding Nemo (2003) and Finding Dory (2016)
Many of us have a soft spot in our hearts for the family animated movie Finding Nemo, in particular the character of Dory; a lovably forgetful fish who can’t seem to do anything right. Dory comes back in the 2016 movie Finding Dory, and although she is simply an animated character, many people with ADHD have pointed out that her traits suggest she may have an inattentive version of the condition. For example, she is very forgetful, can't pay attention for long, and her thoughts tend to run away from her easily.
For young children with diagnosed or suspected ADHD, this film can be a fantastic way to open up the conversation about what it’s like to live with a mind that often feels muddled, like Dory’s, and why it is important to embrace your individuality.
What you can do if you think you might have ADHD?
It is important to note that advice and support for those with ADHD should always be bespoke and individualised, because what works for one person may not work for another. If you suspect you may have ADHD, the first step is often to reach out to your GP to discuss your symptoms.
If they think you may be experiencing symptoms of ADHD, they will usually refer you to a specialist for further tests, possible diagnosis and treatment. You can also choose to do this through a private service such as ours; learn more in our article: What Is Involved In A Private ADHD Assessment?
What to do if you think someone you know has ADHD
Again, support for those with ADHD should always be unique to the individual, but if you suspect someone you know has ADHD, you can open up a discussion about how they are feeling and what they may be struggling with. Encourage them to talk to a professional with experience in this area, in order to get the correct diagnosis and treatment.
Although you may never fully understand how the brain of a person with ADHD works, you can be there for them with support, encouragement and patience while they learn how to manage their symptoms.
Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from a private ADHD assessment or review, to broader private mental health care.
If you have a question about ADHD, such as wondering how it can impact the workplace, we’re here to assist on your journey. Our free 15 minute consultation can guide you to the most relevant specialists to answer your questions and discuss next steps.