I read a book recently, a contemporary romance, where the male protagonist had a diagnosis of ADHD. It was a well written, beautiful love story (I do love those) that managed to grasp the challenges and realities an adult living with this disorder must face. Although this is the first book that I’ve read where ADHD is explicitly stated as being part of the protagonist’s challenges (I’m sure there are countless others that have yet to slide into my limited reading time slots), lots of other writers have captured the energy and impulsiveness this disorder typifies (just think Dennis the Menace, Cat in the Hat or Willy Wonka). I tip my hat off to any writer that captures these qualities in an authentic, layered and accurate way. Considering so many of us have been affected by glitches in our neurochemistry in some way, it’s a challenge well worth accepting when aiming to craft art that actually imitates life.
So if your character has Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, formally diagnosed or not, this is what psychology can tell you they will present:
Inattention tends to manifest itself behaviourally in a number of ways; wandering off task, lacking persistence, having difficulty sustaining focus and being disorganised.
You’ll see a medley of some, or all, of the following:
- Failing to give close attention to details, or making careless mistakes e.g. in schoolwork or work.
- Will often have difficulty sustaining attention in lengthy tasks e.g. during lectures, conversations or when reading War and Peace.
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly, their mind seems elsewhere even when there is no obvious distraction.
- When there are extraneous stimuli, they will find these highly distracting. For teens and adults, this can include unrelated thoughts.
- Often won’t follow through on tasks or duties, e.g. your character may start something, but quickly lose focus and be easily side tracked.
- Organisation isn’t their strong point – they will have difficulty keeping materials and belongings in order, they may be messy and disorganised or have poor time management. This can make meeting deadlines a challenge…
- They will tend to dislike, and avoid, tasks that require sustained mental effort. For children and adolescents, this makes school a challenge. For adults, completing reports and reviewing forms are going to be met with reluctance.
- They are often forgetful – they tend to lose belongings, like school materials, paperwork, mobile phones or their glasses, and they will forget daily activities; such as running errands, returning calls or paying bills.
Hyperactivity and Impulsivity
The hyperactivity part of ADHD refers to the ‘motor’ that always seems to be driving these individuals. In younger folk this will manifest as running, climbing and go-go-going when everyone else is ready to collapse. For adults, it can translate to excessive fidgeting, tapping, or talkativeness. The impulsivity component refers to hasty actions that occur without forethought, generally at high risk of harm to the individual. Impulsive behaviours can be a product of a desire for immediate rewards, or an inability to delay gratification.
You’ll see any of the following:
- Fidgeting, hands or feet tapping, squirming in their seat.
- Struggles to stay still e.g. remaining in their seat during a meeting or at a restaurant.
- Often talking excessively; frequently blurting out an answer before a question has been completed or completing people’s sentences.
- Waiting their turn or waiting in line isn’t their strong suit.
- Often interrupting or intruding on others e.g., butting into conversations or games, they may starting using other people’s things without asking, or may intrude or take over what others are doing.
To add some nuances and authenticity, it’s valuable to note these symptoms vary depending on the context. Signs of ADHD may be minimal or non-existent if your character is under close supervision, is somewhere new and novel, is engaged in especially interesting activities (e.g. a computer game, a football game, or a rendezvous with a particularly hot female they’ve had a long time attraction to…) or is interacting in one-on-one situations (e.g. like a doctor’s appointment, an interview, or a rendezvous with a particularly hot female they’ve had a long time attraction to…).
What do you think? Could you have a character with ADHD? What does it look like for them? Comments and feedback are always appreciated. Connecting with others is why I write. You can comment below, or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Have a wonderful week,
PS Have you noticed that PsychWriter now has services for writers? Why not make the most of my expertise with affordable developmental editing or individual consultation? For more intensive support, I provide regular coaching to bring your story to vivid life and make it shine.