How ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Celebrates ADHD and Neurodiversity

Mary Poppins is not here to 'fix' the Banks children. She’s here celebrating and engaging their neurodiversity—and I LOVE IT.

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Mary Poppins is not here to “fix” the Banks children. She’s here celebrating and engaging their neurodiversity and I LOVE IT.

Mary Poppins Returns to 17 Cherry Tree Lane in this sequel starring Golden Globe nominees Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Disney’s MARY POPPINS RETURNS.

She’s come to look after the Banks children—originally just Michael and Jane, but now extended to include Michael’s three children, Anabel, John, and Georgie. The family is struggling through the relatively recent loss of wife and mother Kate.

Grief, much like pain, can be a tricky thing to sort through quantitatively, but much of Michael’s disorganization and tendency to become quickly flustered are attributed to it.

At the same time—I have some suspicions about other contributors to his distractibility. Given that we only get a small snippet of their lives, with no opportunity for further interview, and this snippet is in the wake of a loss, it’s hard to say anything definitively.

“Grief, much like pain, can be a tricky thing to sort through quantitatively, but much of Michael’s disorganization and tendency to become quickly flustered are attributed to it.”

But I can’t help but think about what movies and TV are trying to teach me about brains and mental health. I watched Michael easily lose track of his briefcase and some critical items (several of which were quite possibly mislaid before his wife’s passing). I also watched Georgie go from walking with his siblings to diving under a bush to chase a kite, completely unaware of his surroundings, and it reminded me very much of what I often see in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

There are three “presentations” of ADHD:

  1. Hyperactive/impulsive presentation, which is probably most like the stereotypical picture of the child with ADHD, “bouncing off the walls”
  2. Inattentive presentation, which often seems to sneak quietly by in classrooms and workplaces until it’s time to turn something in, when a struggle with focus is suddenly revealed
  3. Combined presentation, which is noted when enough symptoms are observed in both hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention

My singular observations alone wouldn’t be enough to diagnose any of these presentations of ADHD; we’d have to think about how many of these different types of symptoms we see, whether they functionally get in the way for Michael or Georgie, and when they started.

But regardless of whether Michael meets full criteria for ADHD-Inattentive (or Georgie for ADHD-Hyperactive/impulsive or Combined), we almost get to see his brain in his actions. We see him work hard to regulate his emotions and behavior in the midst of a difficult time. We see him lose track of what he’s doing and what he’s done.

But perhaps most importantly, we see that his family, with their own brain patterns (like Anabel and John’s stronger attention and working memory, but harder time being cognitively flexible and open to new ideas), love him for all of it.

“It was beautiful to see neurodiversity on screen.”

They celebrate how his mind leads him to creativity in art.

When Georgie bounds headfirst into a new adventure, his siblings are there to help pump the brakes when necessary… and maybe even to share in the fun.

Neurodiversity suggests that we have a range of brain styles worth recognizing beyond the neurotypical brain that sits solidly in the middle of our bell curves in the average range. It celebrates that we might, and probably do, have different patterns of strengths and weaknesses across domains, like our verbal and nonverbal knowledge, attention, impulse control, social understanding, memory, and flexibility.

The Banks family makes a wonderful team for this. They don’t gloss over anything.

“It celebrates that we might, and probably do, have different patterns of strengths and weaknesses across domains.”

Given Mary’s keen eye and sharp wit, just about everyone gets called out at some point for their areas of weakness (like running off because of trouble with impulse control or leaving a room a mess because of inattention). Still, Mary, the Banks, and their many friends never use this as a reason to leave someone out. When Anabel’s limited flexibility is giving her great pause in having fun (because it is NOT bathtime and she does NOT need a nanny and she is NOT interested in quality time with this random lady), Mary, albeit unconventionally, helps her see the various choices she has and the whole crew gets to try something new together.

This movie was a total delight for many, many reasons. I was excited about the Golden Globes nominations but am hoping we see more wins at the Oscars! But beyond the stunning musical performances, Emily Blunt being completely amazing, and everyone else ALSO being completely amazing, it was beautiful to see neurodiversity on screen.

The Neurodivergent Narwhal shares that “neurodiverse describes a group of people with different brain types. Our world is neurodiverse.” It looks like the many worlds that Mary Poppins Returns opens are celebrating and engaging neurodiversity, too.

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