The Disruptors: A New Film About ADHD

An image of a brain with ADHD written in it with colorful streamers coming out of it.

“The Disruptors,”(link opens in new tab/window)↗ the first comprehensive documentary film about ADHD, inspires empathy and offers a positive outlook on this widely-diagnosed condition. The film, currently available for rent on Amazon Prime and other streaming services, features well-known experts in the field including Dr. Ned Hallowell, Dr. Russell Barkley, Dr. Yamalis Diaz, Kristin Seymour, Dr. Thomas Brown, and Dr. Francine Conway.

Background + Facts

The title of the film is intriguing — “The Disruptors.” A look at the five families followed in the film as well as brief appearances by successful famous individuals with ADHD reveals that most were viewed as “disruptive” by those who needed people to behave according to certain norms. Because of the strengths inherent in ADHD and the help of understanding allies, professionals, and sometimes medicine, these individuals succeeded, some becoming successful entrepreneurs, actors, singers, dancers, and astronauts.

As the movie explains, the prevalence of ADHD in the population is about 9%, with boys predominating. ADHD is difficult to diagnose in girls because they tend to be fidgety rather than hyperactive, and their ADHD is often the inattentive type. While diagnoses of ADHD have risen over the past ten years, experts say this is good news because more people are being correctly diagnosed.

Themes + Takeaways

The film makes two very important points. The first is that students with ADHD are often misunderstood and difficulties tend to be dealt with using punishment and criticism, which lower self-esteem and have not been shown to be effective with young people who have ADHD.

An even more important theme of “The Disruptors” is that people with ADHD tend to have certain gifts or strengths, which enable them to succeed in situations where they are allowed to shine and in adulthood when they have some choice in how to spend their time. Specifically, the film highlights these characteristics: making connections, having vision, thinking about the “big picture,” and coming up with innovative ideas.

In fact, for every troublesome symptom that is evident in people with ADHD, a different interpretation makes it an asset. For example, distractibility can be viewed as curiosity, impulsivity as creativity or spontaneity, and hyperactivity as excess energy — traits that are clearly required in pursuit of excellence in sports, drama, music, and entrepreneurship among others.

Thriving with ADHD

The trick, says Hallowell, is to get through to young adulthood with one’s self-esteem intact. Parents and teachers can help by showing empathy rather than punishing students diagnosed with ADHD, offering multiple ways to learn information, empowering students with strategies for self-regulation and executive function, celebrating successes, and providing students with medicine when appropriate to help them manage their attention.

  • Joan Steinberg, M.Ed., Director of Educational Therapy

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