How Sonic the Hedgehog Became a Hero For Kids With ADHD

Long before the Blockbuster empire dwindled down to a single location in Bend, Oregon, my local store was a bustling weekly destination. Throughout early grade school I frequented the video palace for weird family movies and video games, but no tapes saw more frequent rental from me than those of DiC’s Sonic The Hedgehog cartoon, otherwise known as Sonic SatAM. Combined with the Archie comics that continued the story of SatAM, the Gamecube releases of Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2, and Sonic X, these versions of Sonic the Hedgehog helped establish and cement my life-long love of the character — but it wasn’t until recently that I came to realize what exactly it was that drew me to Sonic in the first place.

When I was ten I was diagnosed with ADHD, and in recent years I’ve come to learn just how much it affects my behavior, personality and work. And with these realizations I’ve also realized why I grew to love Sonic the Hedgehog as a kid, and why I have an even stronger connection to him as an adult. Through his hyperactive behavior, his impatient nature and many other personality traits, Sonic serves as a powerfully relatable character to those with ADHD.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Blue Streak, Speeds By

Before the big screen, there was Sonic the Hedgehog, a Saturday morning cartoon following Sonic and a team of freedom fighting anthropomorphic animals who battle the oppressive forces of Dr. Robotnik. Created by DiC, Sonic SatAM, as it would later be known, was the first Sonic media that made me a fan of the character, a love that quickly developed into a deep, deep obsession. His cool 90s attitude was part of it, but the things I loved most about the SatAM version of Sonic were his super speed, his personality and his heroic adventures. 

On the surface, these are things that every cartoon-loving child might find appealing about Sonic SatAM, and that may very well have been the case when I was a kid, but there was also something deeper. I wanted to be Sonic, or at the very least, be like him, and that kind of admiration comes when you deeply relate to something, even if you don’t know why at the time. 

A Speedy Personality

The general — and misinformed — perception that most people have of ADHD is that those who have it are hyperactive, don’t pay attention and are bad students or bad learners in general. The latter two are often perceived as the person simply “not trying hard enough.” But ADHD can manifest in a variety of ways that go beyond simply not being able to focus. Sonic SatAM somehow managed — albeit unintentionally — to communicate these subtleties through Sonic’s personality. 

In SatAM, Sonic is impatient and seeks out action, which can makes him seem rude or egotistical. But what he lacks in planning abilities, he more than makes up for in thinking quickly on his feet and seeing situations in ways that others cannot. Additionally, underneath his cool and sometimes arrogant behavior is a caring person who wants to help his friends and fight for what’s right.

This description also happens to encapsulate traits of ADHD. Sonic’s impatience, specifically his innate need to seek out action, is particularly powerful; the core of having ADHD is that our brains seek out stimulation, something that can manifest in anything from being easily bored to speaking or acting without thinking. But this can result in more than just the inattentiveness or hyperactivity that ADHD is known for — it is also the source of creative and unique thinking, unseen skills, passion and strong opinions, all of which are exhibited by Sonic throughout the series. 

More Sonic:

Sonic the Hedgehog

Archie Adventure X

Archie Comics’ Sonic the Hedgehog series was based on and more-or-less continued the adventures of Sonic SatAM, and though tweaks were made and the comics became their own thing by the end of their world-record run, Sonic’s personality remained Like SatAM Sonic, Archie Sonic is all about adventure and excitement, but beneath his hyperactivity is a hero who wants to fight for what’s right. 

The same basic concepts are there, but Archie added a few more layers to this version of Sonic. Not only does Sonic seek out action, he feels more at ease in the middle of it. I’ve never liked sitting still; my brain is literally wired to seek stimulation, and seeing a character both in cartoon and comic form with a similar desire to keep moving was likely a major factor in why I attached myself to Sonic and why I still love him to this day. Additionally, Archie Sonic’s desire for action influences his choices, causing him to make mistakes or even make things worse at times — which hits close to home, as I have struggled all my life to calm down, stop or reel in my thoughts and comments in social situations.

When Blockbuster’s shift to DVDs left me without Sonic SatAM VHS tapes to which, I had Archie’s Sonic comics to turn to, comics that further strengthened my connection to the character, but they weren’t the only source of Sonic in my life. 

I continued to relate to Sonic the Hedgehog when I finally played my first Sonic games, the Gamecube re-releases of the Dreamcast Adventure games. What helped these games strengthen my love of Sonic was their — pardon the pun — adventurous nature. The gameplay of Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 was so erratic and all over the place, which contributed to their mixed reception. You’re running one second, digging for treasure the next, and playing a weird Tamagotchi-styled minigame in between it all. That variety meant I never found myself bored or disinterested.

Sonic the Hedgehog

The World’s Largest Rubber Band Ball

In the new and improved trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehog film, there’s a preview for a scene in which Sonic and Sheriff Wachowski (James Marsden) are driving across the country. Wachowski wants to stay focused, but Sonic is distracted by the world’s largest rubber band ball, jumping out to speed to the tourist stop before returning to the car just as quickly. This scene and many others in the trailer sell the film’s interpretation of Sonic as a hyperactive kid, but one who does the right thing when the call to action arises, giving me hope that the movie will provide a new generation of kids with their own blue, spiky hero.

Though the ADHD coding I see in Sonic was likely unintentional, it’s an important reason why I grew to and continue to love the character. Sonic the Hedgehog is, without a doubt, my favorite character in all of pop culture, and while his overall cool look, vibe and heroics are part of what sparked this love, learning just how much of his personality mimics my own made me realize that my connection to Sonic goes deep.

Sonic was there when I got angry at myself for not being able to focus, he was there when I got diagnosed with ADHD, and he continues to be there when I feel like my ADHD is an inescapable, debilitating burden, standing as an aspirationally cool version of my hyperactivity and stimulation cravings. Sonic the Hedgehog might just be a video game character or a meme to everyone else, but to me, he’s been a rock throughout my life, helping me to accept, cope with and embrace my ADHD.

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Sean Aitchison

Sean Aitchison is a big fan of cartoons, anime and video games and is therefore a huge nerd who you should all make fun of. He also loves digging up the lost, and often cursed, treasures of pop culture's forgotten media. For more of his work, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcasts, Pop Cultured and Influenca.

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