How to Write A Character With ADHD in Your Fiction

How to Write A Character With ADHD in Your Fiction


This post was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.


When it comes to developing your characters, you want to make sure they’re as genuine as possible. Whether this is through their dialogue, actions, or description, staying true to your vision is important. However, it’s also important to ensure that if you’re writing characters with physical and mental conditions, you’re also portraying them realistically. Relying on stereotypes and stigmas can be harmful to your readers with similar conditions. In addition, if you’re a writer that’s trying to develop a character with a condition that you also live with, it’s necessary to develop a full picture from others that have the condition since everyone’s experiences can vary. As the author, it’s a great practice to conduct research and dive into the depths of a condition in order to write as authentically as possible. 

Understanding ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, more commonly known as ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects about 10% of children in the United States. Each case affects a person differently and can be influenced by genetics, their environment, and other mental health conditions. The most common symptoms are restless or hyperactive behavior, difficulty concentrating, and disruptive or impulsive behavior. However, doctors have stressed that just because a child may be hyperactive and energetic, this doesn’t necessarily mean they have ADHD; preemptively putting a label on a child can lead to difficulty in growth and even problematic situations at home, in school, and in their social life.


When writing a character that has ADHD, it’s important to research both common and lesser-known symptoms, treatments, and realities of individuals that have the condition. Even if you, the author, have or know someone with ADHD, each situation is different and there are a number of ways a person may act because of the condition. As such, you need to explore your character’s personality, reactions, and reasoning abilities and consider how ADHD can influence these decisions and their reality. 

Avoid Tropes

Leaning into stigmas and stereotypes can not only come off as poor writing but it may also contribute to the negativity or limitations surrounding a condition you’re writing about. Although the conversation surrounding ADHD in children and adults has become more widely accepted in recent years, there are still a lot of inaccurate portrayals of the condition in the media. In popular young adult series, like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson, ADHD is portrayed as a gift that doesn’t need to be regulated and almost villainizes treatment and medication. However, creating a narrative that seeking beneficial treatment and finding coping mechanisms for the challenging aspects of a mental health condition upholds harmful stigmas.


You can conduct research to find the best way to portray your character with ADHD. Consult friends, family members, and mental health care professionals to learn more about common experiences, side effects, and negative stereotypes to build up a realistic individual in your story. Consider what kind of difficulties they may go through while also looking at how ADHD can contribute to their strengths. Many traits can be both a challenge and a benefit for these individuals. For example, hyper fixating on a topic can help them to focus on preparing for an upcoming competition, but it will also lead them to neglect other important tasks or people around them. Find the balance that fits with your plot and the needs of the story. 

Your Writing Capabilities

Building a character is already a challenging task for many writers. The additional mental or physical conditions you may try to touch on can contribute to this challenge as you learn how this can affect the story and the relationship this character has with others. However, on the surface, you can treat this trait like most of the rest of your character’s personality. If this individual has mental health conditions that influence their reactions and decisions, do your research to better understand what those reactions would be. While it’s important to keep in mind that negative stereotypes could be harmful to your audience, this doesn’t mean you should disregard common symptoms and shared experiences. 


Consider how you would write a character from another culture: you need to do research, potentially talk to others in the culture, and create realistic situations where the character’s decisions may be impacted. On the other hand, you don’t want to overplay any tropes or create unrealistic expectations. In a similar sense, your character’s mental health conditions should be treated similarly. As an author, you have a responsibility to portray these conditions accurately and honestly. Write from what you’ve learned, take in any feedback, and build your character with your best writing ability. 


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