Percy Jackson and the Perils of Neurodivergence in a Neurotypical World

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In 2005, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief was published. What nobody knew at the time was that with this release would come the start of a long, hilarious journey with our crew of demigods. It now spans almost two decades’ worth of books and takes its audience through a vast fantasy world full of gods, monsters, and the young heroes at the heart of it all. Given that the TV show adaptation is set to release a year from now, bringing fans a much-needed resurgence of nostalgia for this beloved series, I wanted to take a little stroll back to the conception of Percy Jackson and how the very core of the worldbuilding and character design for this series is made for all the neurodivergent kids out there. 

Rick Riordan, the author of Percy Jackson, has spoken a few times over the years about how this series came about. He’d modeled Percy a bit after his own kids, particularly one of his sons who had been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. Riordan wanted his son to have a character who was like him, so he not only made Percy dyslexic with ADHD but actually created his world so that all the demigod kids were neurodivergent as a result of being the children of the Greek gods. Their ADHD is due to them being natural fighters and having faster instincts, while their dyslexia is due to their brains having a difficult time reading English, given that they’re hardwired to read ancient Greek. 

From the very first book, we can see how Percy’s learning and behavioral disabilities affected his life growing up. He’d been expelled from many schools and constantly had problems with his teachers because of trouble with schoolwork and his issues with authority. When Percy gets to Camp Half-Blood, he finds a place where the other kids have the same problems as him, but they aren’t really problems anymore. They’re meant to be advantages that help him survive the life he’s meant to live. Granted, some of these choices might not have aged perfectly. They bring a fantastical element to very real conditions that many people have to deal with in their everyday lives. But, at the same time, Percy Jackson works to make readers, especially the kids this story is marketed towards, feel more connected to it. Just like the kids at Camp Half-Blood, those kids can see that their ADHD or their dyslexia or whatever else they may be dealing with can be their own superpower for them.