In Rick Riordan’s World, ADHD Is a Mark of the Gods

Terena Bell
4 min readJul 15, 2019

An interview with the novelist on fiction’s power to fight stigma

Photo: Bob Hallinen, AP

Approximately 25 million copies of the Percy books have been published, “give or take a million” per Disney Publishing Worldwide publicity director Seale Ballenger.

Emailing through Ballenger, I interviewed Riordan about why he chose Attention Deficit and how his novels help kids with the disorder fight stigma:

Why give Percy ADHD?

Riordan: My oldest son Haley was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia when he was in second grade. He was struggling in school. About the only thing he enjoyed that year was their unit on Greek mythology. Since I was a middle school teacher at the time and had taught Greek mythology for years, I started telling him bedtime stories from the Greek myths as a way to keep him interested. When I ran out of myths to tell him, I made up the story of Percy Jackson. Percy has ADHD and dyslexia because my son does. Percy’s story was a way of telling Haley, “Learning differences don’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. In fact, it is a mark of being very special indeed. You might even be a demigod!” Haley had no problem believing that. It empowered him to see himself represented in the story, and he was the reason I wrote the novel in the first place.

The way my fictional world is set up, ADHD is a pretty good indication that you might be a demigod. It means your system is ‘hard-wired’ for combat with monsters and you pay attention to everything, which is why it is hard to focus on just one thing like a boring algebra lecture. Obviously, I took some liberties coming up with this idea and not everybody with ADHD is a demigod, nor do all demigods have ADHD, but many of them do. It was my way of trying to destigmatize ADHD and make [it] a plus rather than a minus. I had no idea how strongly that would resonate with so many young readers and their families!

What do readers say about the way Percy’s ADHD affects them?

Riordan: I’ve gotten hundreds, perhaps thousands of letters from kids with ADHD, thanking me for writing demigods that reflect who they are. I am often told that they consider ADHD a ‘badge of honor’ now rather than a problem. I even have kids without ADHD write me, kind of bummed out that they…

Terena Bell

Reporter & fiction writer; series editor, Writing Through the Classics; short story editor for hire; sponsor more writing here: